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Giving more kids a chance to play

ConVal High School Athletic Director Mark Swasey made a convincing case for a middle school football program at last week’s School Board meeting. He said a substantial number of kids in the district love football and are eager to learn the game, but have never really had a chance to play.

“We want to make more opportunities for our students,” Swasey said.

The Monadnock Mountaineers program, which has served middle-school age players (and cheerleaders) for about 20 years, is a great way for kids to get started, but it’s not for everyone. Some parents can’t afford it. Others find the schedule, with its nighttime practices and long drives to away games, too challenging. Even the Mountaineers officials agree they aren’t reaching every youngster who wants to play football. They have thrown their support behind the effort to start a ConVal middle school team, even though that team might draw away some of their players. That support will be vital to the success of the middle school program, which was given the go-ahead by the ConVal School Board after Swasey’s presentation.

The program will also need backing from football fans in the ConVal community, because the game is expensive, requiring specialized equipment, qualified coaches and lots of players to field a team. The ConVal football boosters have stepped forward, promising to fund the program themselves indefinitely. Given the recent vote against the ConVal budget and warrant articles, we believe there is little public support for expanding ConVal’s athletic budget to pay for a new team. So we expect voters will hold the boosters to their promise. In the past, new sports — including high school football — have been started under the auspices of a booster program but eventually were folded into the school district’s budget. That’s OK if voters approve, but we imagine getting that support could be difficult these days. Voters weren’t willing to fix ConVal’s track. Would they be willing to fund a middle school football team at some point down the road? We hope they will never be asked to.

ConVal’s football team has been mediocre if judged by the win-loss record, but the program is a success in many other ways. The team has broad community support; its Friday night games are well-attended. And while the game is not for everyone — many parents have understandable concerns about injuries, especially concussions — football offers lot of players who are either too small or too big for other sports, or not quite as fast or nimble as their peers, a chance to participate in athletics. They shouldn’t have to wait until high school to have that opportunity.

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