I never got to play for a state championship when I played football for Newport High School. My sophomore year we lost in the first round of the playoffs to a team we had beaten just a few weeks earlier. My junior year Newport began an ill-fated experiment in playing in a league of Vermont and New Hampshire teams, the Connecticut Valley League, that made total sense geographically (I don't think we had a road trip of any more than an hour in two seasons). But the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association was not a fan of our trans-state machinations, and so for two years we were ineligible to play for any sort of postseason berth. Both years we had winning records against teams from schools that were at least twice as big as we were and in some cases four times as big -- each of the New Hampshire schools in the conference would later play in conferences two or more divisions above Newport.
The next year, when I was a freshman in college, Newport went back to the NHIAA with its tail between its legs, entered the normal divisional system (which has changed at least five times in the last three decades) and won a state championship in a tiny division of the state's tiniest football playing schools, and between then and 1995 won at least two other championships. After something of a dry spell (brought about at least in part because Newport continues to be one of the smallest, if the the smallest, football-playing high school in New Hampshire) Newport again emerged as state champions last weekend after crushing a team from Gilford that had defeated my Tigers by twenty points two weeks earlier. The final score was 35-0, all the more impressive because it took place on Gilford's home field. And in typical Newport fashion, residents of the Sunshine Town traveled well -- we likely outnumbered the home crowd by a substantial margin. My junior year we played a pivotal conference game against Lebanon, 45 minutes up the road, and Newport, a town of 6,000 people then as now, had fans numbering in the thousands on the sidelines. (For posterity's sake I should note that I made the first tackle in that game against Labanon's All State kick returner and running back. Yeay me!).
My uncles won a couple of state championships back in the 1970s and Newport won another a few years before I got to the varsity. But because of the CVL experiment I never got particularly close to a state championship in football despite playing for teams that had a record of something like 18-7 in my three years. And while I am proud of my individual track state championships, it's just not the same thing inasmuch as no one actually gives a shit.
I certainly have not long lamented not winning a state championship in high school. I was always better at track than football, and while I was recruited by a few small colleges to play football, once I got into Williams I banished any of those ideas, though I have long regretted not even trying to "walk on" for the Ephs. But Newport winning brought back a bit of melancholy.
Newport is a small high school in a small town. The connection that one has to a school such as NHS is deeply personal, made all the more so by the intimacy of a community such as NHS. I would guess that there have been fewer graduates of Newport High School since I left for Williams than walk the halls of Permian High School this morning. I know the head coach (who was one of my high school teachers, who was then the baseball coach who had been passed over for the head coaching job, who some of the town idiots -- including the AD -- tried to remove a few years ago after his only losing season in nearly two decades, and who is by just about any measure the most successful football coach in Newport's pretty solid football history) and talked to him on Sunday. Most of the players have names I recognize -- I played with their fathers or uncles or brothers. And now they are New Hampshire Division VI State Champions.
Glory To Newport . . .