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Low turnout of players forces Trinity High to cancel football season

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 14. 2017 11:05PM
Trinity High School's senior co-captains Pat Taillon, left, and Ryan Carrier, and teammate Brad Rhoades, right, celebrate the team's 27-21 win over Manchester Central in The 2012 Queen City Football Championship game on Thanksgiving Day at Gill Stadium. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader File)

Trinity High of Manchester will not field a varsity football team in Division II this fall and the school has already announced it plans to compete in Division III next season.

“We had a low turnout of players during our first week of practice and we felt the best decision for the safety of our players was to not play varsity football this season,” said Trinity director of athletics Chip Polak. “We informed the NHIAA of our decision last Friday.”

Last Wednesday, when high school football teams across the state were allowed to start practicing, only 26 players showed up for training camp, Polak said.

“We had three seniors, one junior, 12 sophomores and 10 freshmen attend our first practice,” said Polak. “Two of the three seniors have never played any kind of organized football and the other senior is dealing with concussion symptoms. The rest of our squad is young and our 10 freshmen are small in stature. Again, we felt if we opened this season on the varsity level, we’d be putting our kids in an unsafe environment.”

Instead, Polak said he’s in the process of establishing a junior varsity schedule this fall.

“It’s our hope we can play up to eight games at that level,” said Polak. “We definitely want our program to play football this fall.”

Since the new classification cycle for all schools begins next fall, Trinity is planning to petition the football program to Division III for the next two seasons (2018-19). “It makes sense for us to do it,’ said Polak. “We lost 17 seniors to graduation this summer from last year’s (1-9) team and considering where our numbers are now, we have to move to Division III.”

Trinity’s decision to drop out of Division II South this fall means South opponents ConVal of Peterborough, Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton, Hollis/Brookline, Milford, Pelham, Souhegan of Amherst, St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover and Windham, along with North opponent Laconia, will have an open date.

“I feel bad about how our decision affected the other teams, but we didn’t know we were going to have a low turnout until our first practice,” said Polak. “We did alert Jeff Collins (NHIAA executive director) as early as last Tuesday (Aug. 8) and he told us to monitor our numbers through the first two days of practice,” said Polak. “When nothing changed by Friday, (Trinity) Principal (Denis) Mailloux held an administration meeting and that’s when we made the decision not to play varsity football. We informed Mr. Collins and Kevin O’Brien (Merrimack Valley director of athletics), who is the head of the (NHIAA) scheduling committee of our decision on Friday.”

Polak said he also made phone calls to the nine athletic directors whose schools lost the Trinity game. “I didn’t want to e-mail them,” said Polak. “Rather, I wanted to speak to each one to let them know why we made our decision, that we didn’t want to start the season knowing ahead of time we couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to finish it.”

Polak said while the NHIAA already knows about Trinity’s decision, a formal letter from Mailloux to Collins will be mailed out this week.

Carol Dozibrin, chairman of the NHIAA football committee and director of athletics of Winnacunnet of Hampton, said on Monday she couldn’t comment on the matter. “I haven’t received any official notice from Mr. Collins or the NHIAA,” said Dozibrin. As for the nine teams who now have an open date, she said “once the schedules are turned in, schools are not allowed to make changes without approval from the NHIAA.”

As for how Trinity’s decision affects the post-season for all the teams in Division II, Plymouth football coach Chris Sanborn, who also serves on the NHIAA football committee, said “it doesn’t affect anything. Playoff teams will still be determined by a point-rating system, by dividing the points earned into the number of games played.”

Polak said head coach Rob Cathcart will remain to coach this year’s team on the junior varsity level. He said the Pioneers plan to play Manchester West in the annual Queen City Jamboree this month at Gill Stadium in a 24-minute (two quarters) contest.

“Rob wants to remain here and we’ve received good response from our supporters over our decision not to play varsity football,” said Polak.

Trinity has had to deal with low turnout numbers as recently as 10 years ago.

After the 2006 season, the Pioneers dropped out of the Division I circuit because of low numbers. In 2007, Trinity hired John Trisciani as its head coach and declared itself an independent team. Trisciani got 54 kids to turn out to play football that season.

In 2008 Trinity returned to the NHIAA as a Division V team and qualified for the state tournament with 60 players. The team lost to St. Thomas in the first round, but Trinity posted an 8-2 record that season.

By 2009, Trisciani had done his job, getting over 60 players to play football. He left Trinity for a coaching post at St. Anselm College and Gary Leonard, longtime former coach at West who in 2009 was teaching and serving as AD at Trinity, took over the Pioneers’ program.

In 2009 Trinity beat Bishop Brady of Concord for the Division V title, 41-7. The team transferred to Division IV and earned three consecutive state final berths.

Trinity lost the championship game to Lebanon (24-14) in 2010, beat Plymouth (30-14) in 2011 and lost the rematch to the Bobcats in 2012 under first-year coach Steve Burns by a 7-0 decision. Burns remained head coach through the 2015 season and Cathcart took over in 2016.

“Everything is in place to build our numbers back up,” said Polak. “Things go in cycles. We’ve been here (low turnout) before and we’re confident we’re going to return to varsity status next season.”

NHIAA Manchester