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The 2019-20 boys basketball season began with the Nashua North/Lebanon Jamboree game being halted four minutes into the first quarter because of a slippery floor due to condensation on an unseasonably warm December day and ended with an email from Shannon Quinn of the NHIAA.
Both felt in the moment like something was being taken away from the kids. Like they were being robbed of something. Sitting here today I don’t know how time and even years will make it feel any different when we look back on it all.
Watching the video Jennifer Chick-Ruth produced along with the players who had their season taken away was heartbreaking for me, and I imagine a lot of you felt the same way.
As the videos kept coming in from the players we know so well from covering them during their high school careers, the overwhelming feeling was their resignation that there was nothing they could do.
The kids were all mature, smart, articulate and crushed.
Trevor Howard (Littleton), Jamie Hayes (Newmarket), Rick Acquilano (Gilford) and Brandon Kear (Mascenic) will all get their opportunities again beginning next November but Adrian Siravo, Connor Sullivan, Parker Briggs, Will Chase, Zach Barthel, and Sammy Stauffeneker will not. The kids all understand why this is happening and the need to stop the games and all public activities, but they have every right to ask why now?
The NHIAA has done everything they could to get these games in and it was clear from the beginning that they were looking out for the kids involved but when the governor tells you to shut it down, you shut it down.
Talk of co-champions or awarding the top-seeded team the title has been mentioned on social media. My feeling is you leave it blank with no champion or you name Littleton & Newmarket co-champions of Division IV and Gilford & Mascenic Regional co-champions of Division III.
Division I & II have to be left blank, just as there was no World Series winner in 1994 because of the players' strike.
Arguing that Littleton should be the Division IV champion by virtue of their January 10th neutral floor victory over Newmarket or Mascenic should be the Division III champion because of their February 8th home win over Gilford may seem plausible to their fans but it holds no weight.
We’ve heard head coaches say for 40 plus years that they don’t award a state title in January or early February and that logic remains true.
A year ago Conant lost to Somersworth 53-41 in mid-February only to turn around and beat them in the championship game three weeks later 61-48. There is no way to know who would have won these four tournaments. That’s why we play the games.
To argue any other way is frankly ridiculous.
Did anyone tell Jamie Hayes two weeks after Christmas that his team was playing for the title? Did Rick Acquilano mention to his players on a Saturday morning bus ride to New Ipswich after not having school on either Thursday or Friday (and no practice either) that they were playing the state championship with zero prep time for their opponent?
Of course not.
I was on the phone with my good friend Portsmouth assistant coach ‘The Big Smooth’ Lewis Atkins on Monday night and I told him it was the equivalent of playing poker with your friend and then a month later telling him he owes you $1,000. ‘Oh, you didn’t know we were playing for $1,000? Yeah, I decided we were….let me give you my Venmo address.’
The same rule applies and is even easier to justify in both Divisions I & Division II.
The most wide-open of the four divisions was easily Division II where I believe six of the remaining eight teams could have been the last team standing.
In Division I Exeter again finished the season as the top seed but by mid-February, it was anyone’s title to win.
After winning their first 9 games by an average of 21.7 points per game team’s started finding cracks in the Blue Hawks. Over their last nine games they remained elite but their average margin, including their loss to Alvirne, dropped to 6.7 points per game.
So you want to go tell Steve Lane (Nashua North), John Mulvey (Portsmouth), Kevin Ritter (Keene), Nate Mazerolle (Nashua South) and all the Division I coaches in the quarterfinals that this was a done deal?
Make sure I’m there to watch when you tell them that.
Sometimes there is no winner and even though it feels like someone walked out on the field during the final minutes of the championship and told T.C Williams and the entire team from ‘Remember the Titans’ that the game can’t be finished because a water pipe burst it’s a pill we all have to swallow.
It’s hard enough for me, someone lucky enough to have been in attendance for 41 of the last 44 championship games played, to have the season taken away but it pales in comparison to these kids, and not just the seniors.
We are out there over 100 nights a year and grinding out previews until the Division I quarterfinal preview feels like you are finishing ‘War and Peace’ but what keeps us going is these kids. The same kids you saw on the video yesterday.
It’s a helpless feeling when there is nothing you can do to change the circumstances around you, and that’s something we are all going to have to get used to, but you wish these kids had at least one more time on the floor together.
Seeing it taken from them is never going to get easier, no matter how much time passes us by.
The NHsportspage senior and underclassman teams against BABC are pushed back but will be played
I reached out to BABC director Leo Papile this week and we agreed on the obvious, the games scheduled for March 28th will need to be pushed back.
As I told the kids by text and the parents by email, we will be playing the games. Whether that is in May, June or even July, I can tell you if we are allowed back in a gymnasium, the games will be played.
We plan to have videos from the practices, events for the parents, players, and coaches and a double-header to cap it off.
We’ll have announcements on those dates here on the website as well as on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.
Head Coach: Lorne Lucas of Oyster River
Assistant coach: Rob Fauci of Somersworth
Ryan Grijalva of Exeter
Justin O’Neil of Bedford
Noah Timmer of Keene
Calvin Hewett of Portsmouth
Rylan Canabano of Concord
Sammy Stauffeneker of Mascenic Regional
Charlie Adams of Hanover
Joe Morrell of Oyster River
Jon Willeman of Lebanon
Brendan Choate of Nashua North
Shea Shackford of Pembroke Academy
Drew Brown of Pelham
Derek Crowley of Pelham
Grant Snyder of Hollis-Brookline
Head Coach: Nick Fiset of Epping
Assistant coach: Jeff Baumann of Timberlane
Assistant coach: Sam Natti of Lisbon
Royce Williams of Trinity
Matt McCool of Souhegan
Coleman Brewster of Portsmouth
Matt Lamy of Bow
Dylan Santosuosso of Bishop Guertin
Joey DaSilva of Windham
Kingsley Breen of Dover
Brett Marelli of Winnacunnet
Jacob Gibbons of Exeter
Nate Kane of Nashua North
Curtis Harris of Nashua North
Kur Teng of Manchester West
The season is too long and we need to create two Super Saturday’s…here’s how we do it
I was out last week in Portsmouth and bumped into a parent of an all-state player from Maine. As we were discussing the current situation and the cancellations of the tournament games he looked at me and said ‘How are you guys just starting your Division I tournament when half of all college basketball teams are already done?’
It’s a fair question and not a new one. Maine already had determined their champions by the end of February while Division I teams were just starting their tournaments on March 11th.
I’ve always enjoyed the walk into Lundholm gymnasium with the kids tailgating in shorts and the feel of spring in the air but this year it bit us in the butt.
It’s time to condense the season.
Here is how we do it and I even brought in the coach of America’s Team Sam Natti to help me do it.
There’s no reason you cannot play two games a week and every third week play three games. That would have gotten you to the tournaments on February 17th and wrapped up the season on March 7th this year.
Teams are in the gyms playing three or four nights a week as soon as the football and soccer seasons end. That gets the players back into basketball mode for at least a few weeks.
Here are some ideas to consider:
The key is condensing the schedule.
Between January 17th and 27th Littleton played one game in ten days. Why?
With the Holiday Tournaments not counting it is common for a team to go close to three weeks without playing a meaningful game. This is an easy fix and needs to be made.
These kids are fine with playing five games in two weeks; if they start collapsing from exhaustion I promise you can blame me.
Now on to the Super Saturdays.
On February 29th here is what that schedule at Plymouth State would have looked like:
12 pm: Division IV Girls Championship (Colebrook vs. Woodsville)
2:30: Division IV Boys Championship (Littleton vs. Newmarket)
5:00: Division III Girls Championship (Conant vs. Fall Mountain)
7:30: Division III Boys Championship (Gilford vs. Mascenic Regional)
Everyone meets in Plymouth where you have a full day of championships surrounded by restaurants & bars where everyone from across the state can come together for four games. Yes, Jen, Lance, McIsaac & I would collapse by 7 pm but let us worry about that..
Over the course of the day, you’re going to get more people coming than holding the games at separate venues and it cuts cost as you have the gym for one day instead of four nights.
This year we had about 60% capacity for the Division III boys’ semifinals, which were played at Keene State on a Monday night at 6:30 and 8.
Keene State did a terrific job hosting, I raved about them on my podcast with McIsaac and will again here but the Gilford kids got back to their school at 12:45 am on a Monday night. That isn’t sustainable.
Whether people like it or not, and I don’t, every coach in the know has told me the semifinals are very likely heading back to the floor of the higher seed. The costs are just not making it possible to keep holding them on college campuses.
You could have easily fit everyone at Plymouth State for the Newmarket/Groveton game into Newmarket’s gym and although teams love playing their final four games there and coaches love pointing to the venue as a season-long goal, I’m being told it may all be going away.
Gilford/Hopkinton and Mascenic/Somersworth would have both played in front of packed houses at the higher seed, with the winners advancing to the college campuses.
This year Division III and IV held their final four on the same night 96 miles away.
Under the new format Divisions, I & II would play their championship games on the same time schedule at UNH on one Saturday, one week after the lower divisions.
Only Division I packs the house at UNH for the semifinal games, and most of their gyms (Exeter/Portsmouth/Londonderry etc) could easily hold a huge (one game) semifinal crowd.
I’m all for feedback and comments on why it wouldn’t or would work.
Maine has done this with great success, it’s time for New Hampshire to go the same route.
Coming tomorrow: Part II