MANCHESTER -- IF THE 2013 Division II football championship was the final chapter of Chuck Lenahan’s brilliant coaching career at Plymouth Regional High School, Tuesday’s Joe Yukica Scholar-Athlete Dinner was its epilogue.
Lenahan’s on-field career ended Nov. 23 with a 21-14 victory over visiting Portsmouth, a triumph that gave Lenahan a 356-70-1 career record and Plymouth its 20th championship in his 43 years as head coach. It was a dramatic, emotional and altogether fitting exit for the dean of New Hampshire high school football coaches.
But for Lenahan — and, truth be told, for most of the coaches who patrol the sidelines in this state — coaching never has been simply about what takes place on the field, and that’s why the Yukica Dinner said as much about his career as last November’s victory over Portsmouth.
Among the honorees at the Executive Court Banquet Facility Tuesday night were 30 seniors recognized by the Yukica New Hampshire Chapter of the National Football Foundation for their scholastic achievement as well as their gridiron accomplishments. They came from 20 different schools, eight with two representatives each.
One school had three scholar-athletes in attendance. You guessed it: Plymouth.
“Obviously there’s a direct correlation there,” Plymouth State University coach Paul Castonia, who’s been the beneficiary of the local high school’s football and academic acumen. “Every year, Chuck brings a van-load of players and supporters to this event because of what it recognizes and what it represents, which is a direct correlation between success in the classroom and success on the football field.”
This year’s Plymouth crowd included as many full tables as it did Scholar-Athlete Award winners. Lenahan, who was surprised with a special award in recognition of having 19 of his players honored as scholar athletes since 1992, was there, of course. So were the three award recipients — Jared Kuehl, Kyle Reisert and Collin Sullivan — and their families. But younger players were there, too — not just to join in honoring their accomplished teammates but also to underscore the rewards of hard work.
Kuehl, Reisert and Sullivan had been to the dinner before, the first two as siblings as well as teammates. Kuehl’s brother Tyler was a 2007 Scholar-Athlete Award recipient before heading off to Bates College. Reisert’s brother Nick was a 2012 winner before enrolling at Boston University.
“Coach Lenahan has always preached the merits of being a scholar-athlete, putting ‘scholar’ first,” Kyle Reisert said. “Even though people know him mainly as a football coach and athletic director, he values grades and keeping up with course work.”
At the start of the event, Gov. Maggie Hassan addressed the scholar-athletes about the importance of giving back to the state, of returning home to live and work if they’re leaving New Hampshire to attend school. She’ll be pleased to know Tuesday night’s Plymouth honorees won’t have to return.
Kuehl, a running back and linebacker at Plymouth, and Reisert, a wing back and defensive end for the Bobcats, will continue their football careers under Sean McDonnell at the University of New Hampshire. Sullivan, who was the Plymouth Regional football team’s quarterback, will play basketball for Plymouth State.
And, yes, they’ll keep hitting the books, Kuehl carrying a double major of psychology and criminal justice, Reisert majoring in mechanical engineering, Sullivan post-secondary math education.
Watching his three sharply dressed award representatives handle themselves with the poise they displayed in winning that last Plymouth championship, Lenahan was pleased.
“This means a lot,” he said. “It shows Plymouth not only is good at playing football but also produces great kids, and it says that what we’ve tried to emphasize — not just success in athletics but success in academics — has gotten results.”
Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @vinsylvia.