Just as high school athletics season kicks off comes the potentially good news that the Eastern Athletic Conference — a sports league made up of predominantly parochial schools from the south shore — has invited the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to join its ranks.
Several Vineyard sports teams have been without a conference since the principals of the South Coast Conference unexpectedly voted in December of 2006 not to allow the regional high school to remain in the league.
At Tuesday’s regular school committee meeting, athletic director Michael Joyce said the Eastern Athletic Conference approached Vineyard school officials recently and offered membership.
The current members of the conference include Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Bishop Stang High School in Dartmouth, Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton, and Somerset High School. Currently the regional high school is a member of the Mayflower League for football, track and cross country.
Mr. Joyce said if the Vineyard decides to join the Eastern athletic league, membership would be granted immediately, and league games would begin next fall with eight games in a set schedule for each team.
Superintendent of schools Dr. James Weiss said membership in the conference would include all teams at the high school, as opposed to the previous arrangement with the South Coast Conference, in which only some of the teams were members of the conference.
Mr. Weiss said the Eastern Athletic Conference is a good fit for the Vineyard; all the schools are comparable in both size and the level of athletic competition. “It’s very important to our students; it gives us a guaranteed rivalry with schools everyone is familiar with, it gives the school a tested playoff format and it allows student athletes to be recognized as all-stars in their respective leagues. It would be a big plus for our school and our students,” he said.
Mr. Weiss said as a contingency, Mr. Joyce might ask the Mayflower League to be allowed a two-year probationary period for reentering the league, in case the new arrangement did not work out.
He said the final decision whether or not to join the league lies with principal Stephen Nixon, although he anticipated a large sample of the school community would be involved in the decision-making process. “We want everyone to be involved and the hope is we can build a consensus . . . we want to get the school committee, parents, students, staff, even the booster club involved,” he said.
Aa the future of Vineyard high school athletics was being discussed by school officials, a new fall athletic season unfolded as the golf team, boys’ and girls’ soccer squads, cross country and field hockey teams all played early season contests. The football team (and cheerleader squad) prepared for their opener tonight at Old Rochester.
Boys’ soccer coach Bob Hammond said it is almost impossible to make a prediction for this team. Although the team lost anchor players such as four-year starter Nico Cuba, who was both a standout goalie and position player, as well as Kenny MacDonald, they were also returning several strong players.
The team’s three co-captains — Billy Reagan, Ryan Dwane and Alex Poole — are all seniors with varsity experience, while fellow seniors Allen Birol and Jessie Swaringen also provide veteran leadership. This year’s team is an almost even mix of young players and veterans, and the coach said he hopes the team will find its footing early.
“We will be mostly a defensive team — but we do have some good young attackers. It’s just putting a lot on them to ask them to produce immediately. I don’t expect a ton of scoring right off the bat, but like most teams we will learn as we go and get better,” he said.
The Vineyarders opened the season with a loss on the road at Nauset last Thursday. They played a great first half, keeping their larger and faster opponents scoreless for most of the frame, although Nauset finally got on the board in the closing minutes of the half by sneaking on past junior goalkeeper Shane Schofield.
Early in the second half, the Vineyarders were poised to the tie the game with a penalty kick from about 30 feet out, but the goalie made a great save and caught the visitors off-guard by dropping the ball past the mid-field to set up an easy goal to make it 2-0.
“That kid was a tremendous goalie; he was one of the best I’ve seen,” coach Hammond said of the Nauset net-minder, Brett Conrad. “He caught us sort of flat-footed on that one.”
Saturday’s game against Pembroke was postponed due to stormy conditions and is scheduled to be made up on Thursday, Oct. 30. The Vineyarders game on Tuesday against Falmouth was also washed out by rain and has yet to be rescheduled.
After a relatively disappointing season in which the football team missed the playoff by one game (but did beat Nantucket in the Island Cup game yet again), longtime coach Donald Herman said he is “guardedly optimistic” about his team’s chances this year.
After losing 23 seniors from last year — the highest graduation rate in coach Herman’s tenure — it would be easy to call this a transition year for the perennially strong Vineyarders. But Coach Herman is not big on labels, and is even less cheery about the prospect of a rebuilding year.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, and we’re going to have to stay healthy more than ever [this year], but we have talent . . . anything can happen,” he said.
Returning from last year is senior quarterback Mike McCarthy, a three-year starter who can throw the ball down field and run the option. Joining him in the backfield will be a rotating slate of running backs; senior Cody Brewer, junior Erik Dolliver, senior Nick Gross and senior Matt Costello.
As in previous years, Coach Herman is expected to mix up who carries the ball both to keep fresh legs in the game and to throw off opponent defenses. The coach said he will also switch back to a spread offense instead of the double-tight end set he used for much of last year. The spread offense uses two wide outs and two slot backs that are both runners and receivers, which is harder to defend and spreads out the field.
Receivers Randall Jette, Patrick Hart, Nick Billingham and Doug Asselin are all expected to play at receiver.
Coach Herman said the opener against Old Rochester will be a good indication of the team’s talent and mettle.
“I would say it’s a two point spread,” he joked of the opponent which always provides an equal challenge for the Vineyarders. “In playing them six times we beat them by seven and they beat us by seven, and the other times we beat them by two points . . . for whatever reason they always play us close.”
The Vineyarders home opener is Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m. against Bishop Connolly.
It’s one thing to lose a star player to graduation, but it’s something very different to lose the state’s top player for the past two years in a row.
That is the challenge facing golf coach Doug DeBettencourt, who finds himself without golf phenom Tony Grillo, winner of the last two state junior championships, who graduated in June and recently started college at Harvard University.
But Mr. DeBettencourt said he does not expect the loss of Grillo to derail what he expects to be a strong season. He expects his number one golfer, Henry Smith, to stroke the ball well and lead the team, with senior co-captains Sam Scott and Luke Pisano in top spots.
Rounding out the nine, who will basically compete for eight slots, are Alex Bilzerian, Serel Garvin, Josh Crowther, Gus Hayes, Chris Davies and Grant McCarthy. Coach DeBettencourt said this year’s squad is both talented and deep.
“These are quality players who have the ability to pick one another up . . . I think we will have a solid season and compete for a spot in the state tournament,” he said.
The season so far has been a mixed bag for the Vineyarders, having won one, lost two and even notched a rare tie against Pembroke on Sept. 3. On Tuesday they lost to undefeated Sandwich at the par 36 Sandwich Hollows course. Pisano and Garvin led by shooting a 40 and 41, respectively.
The field hockey team opened with a win last Friday at home against Pembroke. With a return to the sideline for coach Lisa Knight, who missed last season, the Vineyarders won 3-1. Kate Cecilio, Emma Frizzell and Sophie Lew all notched goals.