Support for 15-year-old Cooper Doucette extends well beyond state lines.
“A lot of teams and organizations are stepping forward to keep Coop’s spirits up,” said Nashua High School North head football coach Jason Robie.
Doucette, a North sophomore, underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston on Aug. 17 to stabilize his neck and C5 vertebra, which, three days earlier, he broke during a tackling drill. He experienced paralysis from the mid-torso down as a result of the break.
Long-term implications are unknown. But this much is certain: Stars with New Hampshire ties stepped forward to ensure the injured Titan remains upbeat.
University of Oregon head football coach Chip Kelly, a Manchester native and former UNH offensive coordinator, sent a signed card.
Nashua native Ted Phillips, the president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Bears, sent a Super Bowl XLI football. Walpole’s Ryan Durand, a guard for the Tennessee Titans, also sent a football.
Even Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who doesn’t have formal ties to New Hampshire, sent a game-used bat signed to Doucette.
Closer to home, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats are hosting a fundraiser. The Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays will donate $3 for every club ticket purchased and $4 per premium ticket sold for tomorrow’s game at Merchantsauto.com Stadium against the Harrisburg Senators.
“He’s talking. He’s happy he can communicate, talk to his friends and family. That’s really good,” said Robie, who has made several visits to Boston. “It was good to be near him and communicate with him. Every day is a new challenge for him. But he’s just a terrific hard-working kid.”
BEST FOOT FORWARD
Senior striker Eric Jayne, an all-New England talent as a junior, kicked off Hanover High’s 50th season of boys’ soccer in noteworthy fashion.
Drawing considerable interest from Division I men’s college soccer programs, Jayne recorded three goals and two assists on Monday. In their Division II opener, the five-time defending champion Marauders powered past Pembroke Academy, 6-1.
“Obviously, he’s off to a great start,” said Hanover head coach Rob Grabill, whose junior striker, Pedro Celaya, added two goals and an assist.
Similarly, Billy French was a force for Division III Hopkinton High. The senior midfielder netted three goals in the opening eight minutes on Monday, as the four-time defending champion Hawks (2-0) manhandled East Swanzey’s Monadnock Regional, 7-0.
French scored in the first, third and eighth minutes. His third goal required him to beat three defenders en route to the net and force the keeper out of position with a fake.
DRIVEN TO DOMINATE
Momentum from the summer golf season carried into the season-opening match for Keene High sophomore Chelso Barrett. The 15-year-old topped the leaderboard in Monday’s four-team meet at Passaconaway Country Club in Litchfield.
Barrett parred every hole on the nine-hole, par-35 course to win by two strokes. His score powered the Blackbirds past Dover, Merrimack and Londonderry.
“I’m rebuilding my swing to take my game to the next level, to become more consistent,” said Barrett, noting his goal is to shoot at least 3-under-par in matches this season. “If I’m going to get better, I have to hit consistent every time.”
This summer, Barrett won the New Hampshire Junior Amateur Championship. He also qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.
He was the Granite State’s only golfer to survive the two qualifying rounds at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada, Mich., and advance to match play.
“I played really good in the beginning of the summer and had fun at the USGA tournament,” said Barrett. “It was good competition. It made me realize I can’t take my game for granted.”
Hollis/Brookline High petitioned to play Division I girls’ soccer after three straight runner-up seasons in the former Class I, the league designated for the school’s size (651-1,250 students).
H/B, home to 903 students, didn’t wait long for its first test. Representing the second-smallest school in the 18-team Division I (1,250-plus students), H/B traveled to the Seacoast for Monday’s season-opening match with Exeter.
Exeter, a school with 1,701 students, won three Class L crowns in the last five years. It also worked a 2-1 comeback win against the Cavaliers.
“I’d say the level of play was very comparable to the better teams we saw in Class I,” said H/B head coach Craig Powers. “It was a very close match throughout.”
Senior striker Amanda Gerlitz, among five all-New England picks from New Hampshire last season, gave H/B a 1-0 lead 15 minutes into the match. But the host Blue Hawks equalized 10 minutes into the second half and took the lead with 15 minutes to play.
“(Exeter) came out in the second half and started winning the 50-50 balls they were losing in the first half,” said Powers. “But this was a great first match of the season. I wouldn’t put it past this group to take this loss and use it to build a terrific season.”
FEELING THE EFFECTS
Manchester West, one of three public high schools in the state’s largest city, continues to feel the effects of losing Bedford students to the opening of Bedford High.
For decades, Bedford didn’t have a high school. Students attended West. But, with the opening of BHS in 2007, the multiple-year exodus of students began. Last year marked the first academic school year without any Bedford residents at 9 Notre Dame Ave.
As West’s student population dropped from 2,200-plus a few years ago to 1,383, the athletic programs took a huge hit.
The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) lists 29 varsity sports on its website. West is no longer fielding teams for boys’ ice hockey and field hockey. It doesn’t field a boys’ volleyball team. It never fielded teams in girls’ ice hockey and bowling, sports recently granted varsity status.
Twenty-four varsity sports remain. In eight of those sports, West competes in Division II, a tier for schools with smaller student populations than its own. The school was granted approval to “petition down,” which is extremely rare.
West will compete in Division II for boys’ and girls’ soccer, girls’ basketball, softball, fall and winter spirit, and boys’ and girls’ tennis.
The fact girls’ soccer isn’t playing in Division I is perhaps most noticeable. The Blue Knights were a longtime power under former head coach Jack Amero.
During Amero’s tenure from 1977-2005, West tallied 415 wins, 15 of them for Class L championships. The program won 62 consecutive matches from 1989-93, at the time a national record. It is still a state record.
“It’s a big difference, going from nationally ranked to being moved to Division II,” said second-year West head coach Nick Moutsioulis, whose team a year ago was 1-16-1 in Class L. “I think currently it’s the right place for us. We’re just trying to be competitive.”
Just 16 girls attended tryouts for West. All of them, including five who never before played soccer, were selected for the varsity team. Eight years ago, roughly 90 girls played in the program that also fielded junior varsity and freshman teams, Moutsioulis said.
And that, he added, was a “very safe” estimate.
MARK IT DOWN
Football fans, particularly those who closely follow Derry’s Pinkerton Academy, likely circled Friday, Oct. 15, on their calendars long ago.
That’s when the Astros must survive rush-hour traffic on Rte. 128, and then attempt to tackle Bay State rival Brockton, the No. 1 team in the ESPNBoston.com New England Top 10 preseason poll.
“We come to expect that, to be honest,” Pinkerton head coach Brian O’Reilly said of Brockton earning regional powerhouse status. “That’s based on the reputation of the program, but also the kids they have coming back. They’re going to be a handful. And I’m going to enjoy it.”
Pinkerton’s student population is 3,325, easily making the school New Hampshire’s largest (Nashua South is second with 2,226 students). Facing the Boxers for the 15th straight season gives the Astros a rare chance to embrace the role of underdog.
Know this about O’Reilly: If there’s one Granite State grid coach who never dodges the chance to take on the best, he is it.
Undefeated seasons mean nothing to him. Same goes for win streaks. The sole focus for O’Reilly is ensuring the program he has led to nine Division I championships since 1985 is tested come playoff time.
Case in point: Pinkerton, in 2007, took a 20-game win streak into its Week 7 game against Brockton. The streak, at the time, was second in the state to the 28-gamer of then-Division III Plymouth Regional, which has since added to the run for a nation-best 55 wins in a row.
Brockton blasted the host Astros, 54-19. O’Reilly didn’t regret for a second playing the game.
“I am a firm believer you play above (your ability level) as much as you can, and it makes you a better football team,” O’Reilly told the New Hampshire Union Leader minutes after the 35-point loss.
The Astros are 4-10 in the series, which started in 1996. They are 1-7 in their previous eight matchups. They won on the road, 34-14, in 2006.
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He has been the high schools reporter for football and lacrosse since joining the statewide newspaper in 2006. A graduate of Syracuse University (2000), he wrote about the state’s football history for an exhibit at The Hall at Patriot Place. The Bedford, N.H., native has covered the Little League World Series, NCAA men’s lacrosse championships, UNH athletics and New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball. He can be reached at email@example.com.