John Habib's City Sports: Little interest, no team for once-proud Jutras
For the first time in decades, Jutras Post No. 43 of Manchester is not fielding a baseball team this season.
A four-time state champion, Jutras had only seven players show up for tryouts this week, and any hope of picking up players cut by neighboring posts — including the two others in the Queen City, Sweeney Post 2 and Manchester Post 79 — went by the board when those teams had just enough players show up to put together a lineup with a few reserves.
"Usually, players get cut or released from other teams, and I was hoping that would be the case this year," said Don Parents, Jutras' director of athletics. "But it's my understanding Sweeney Post had 14 players out for tryouts and Post 79 had 15. Bedford (Stevens-Buswell Post 54) had just enough, too. Bottom line is, none of those teams cut or released players because they couldn't afford to this summer."
The statewide American Legion baseball schedule actually started last Sunday, but Parents waited until this week to conduct tryouts, hoping the later date would attract players looking for a team. The gambit didn't work.
"It's disappointing," Parents said.
Jutras Post had 16 players on its roster last season, Parents said, but six of those players no longer are age-eligible. Others from last year's team simply didn't return.
"I don't know exactly why the turnout was so low this year," Parents said.
Those eligible to play for Jutras included residents of the Manchester High West school district and players cut by other teams. The drop in athletics participation at West — attributable mainly to the opening of a town high school in Bedford, which previously sent its secondary students to West — appears to have had an affect on Jutras Post, as well.
Parents said he will make another attempt to field a team next year.
"That's all we can do: wait and see," he said. "We've already told the seven players who came to the tryouts that we're willing to sign the papers and release them to other teams. We're not going to deny those seven players of playing baseball just because we don't have enough players to field a team."Paul Lemire, athletics director of Sweeney Post, and Eddie Poisson, coach of Post 79, were saddened to hear the Jutras program will be idle this season.
"It appears that with West High declining in enrollment and the fact Bedford and Goffstown both have a Legion program, Manchester may not be able to field three Legion teams going forward," said Lemire, who coached Jutras to its first state title championship in 1985. "Jutras Post has always been an integral part of city baseball in the summer. To see what has happened is both sad and disappointing to me."
Poisson, who also coaches the baseball team at Manchester's Trinity High, said it's time for the city to help West by redistricting the school boundaries.
"I graduated from West, coached football and girls' basketball there for over 20 years," he said. "It's a great school with so much tradition and pride. Making West strong makes the city strong again. Making West strong again means — and I'm not just talking about American Legion baseball — the (city) sports programs across the board become stronger."
Lemire and Poisson said their respective Legion programs have 18 players on their rosters this season.
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TRINITY principal Denis Mailloux said this week that before hiring Chip Polak as the school's new athletics director, he asked about an investigation into alleged financial improprieties at Polak's former place of employment, Southern New Hampshire University, where Polak was athletics director for 27 years.
Last summer, the state Criminal Justice Bureau launched an investigation into "irregularities" involving more than $100,000 at SNHU, with the focus of the investigation an unnamed budget manager. At the time, the only budget manager listed in the SNHU director was Ray Prouty, previously a longtime assistant to Polak, now no longer employed by the university.
Polak, who was on medical leave for treatment of prostate cancer when the investigation was announced by the state Attorney General's Office, resigned as AD in December but said the financial scandal was not a factor in his departure.
"We looked into it and inquired about it," Mailloux said. "I felt assured that this matter didn't cast any aspersions on (Polak). The information we received indicated no concerns regarding Chip.
"Having Chip join our team is a big plus for us," Mailloux continued. "We look forward to the quality of leadership he will bring to the program. We're thrilled not only with his experience but with his standing in the community. We know that the Trinity athletics program is definitely an onward-and-upward matter and that Chip will bring a lot of fine qualities to the position."
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THE MANCHESTER school board's Athletics Committee has posted the position of city athletics director as full-time, with a salary range of $69,530.39-$74,862.60. Current AD Dave Gosselin will step down from his part-time job, at an annual salary of $37,000, on June 30.
"We've allocated more money to the school side, and the school board can hire a full-time director if they wish," said Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who wouldn't comment on whether he supports having a full-time director.
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FOR THE 33rd straight summer, the New Hampshire All-Star Basketball School will be open to boys and girls ages 8-16 at SNHU. Men's basketball coach Stan Spirou and longtime assistant Jay Dufour will lead the instruction, with a staff familiar to followers of the local high school and college basketball scenes.
The camp will operate in two one-week sessions, July 15-19 and July 22-26, inside the SNHU Fieldhouse.
"We're not going to turn these young kids into great basketball players in a week or two," said Spirou. "Our goal at our school is for each kid to pick up one or two fundamental things and continue to improve upon them over a period of time."
Spirou said when he watches elementary or high school players, he notes many of them neglect the fundamentals of the game.
"The biggest weakness I see, which we work on at our school, is the kids' ability to pass the ball," said Spirou. "The first day in camp, the first thing most kids do is go behind the (3-point) arc and fire up shots. Kids today love shooting the 3-point shot, but that's not the first thing we teach."
Spirou said learning to play the game the right way begins with the basics.
"Dribbling, passing and sharing the ball are essential to learn at a young age," he said. "If you can master those basics at an early age, your game will improve dramatically. I often have said that the greatest compliment you can give a player is to tell them they make the other players on the floor better. You do that by learning and mastering the basics."
Spirou said the girls he's coached at the camp have been especially adept at developing sound fundamentals, citing two former campers — Stephanie (Schubert) Bike, who went on to play for the University of New Hampshire, and his niece Christiana Bakolas, now a guard for Bentley University — as two examples.
"Every year at our school, the girls absorb the lessons we teach like sponges — really pick up things quickly," Spirou said. "I come away each year impressed over how the girls are fundamentally sound. Their determination and willingness to learn has made the women's game better than when we first started our school over 30 years ago."
To register for the New Hampshire All-Star Basketball School, call 645-9680 or 645-9649, or email Dufour at firstname.lastname@example.org. The camp runs daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
"City Sports" is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at email@example.com.