Time to get fans more involved with earlier starts

There’s nothing quite like a local sporting event that draws an enthusiastic crowd.

The North-South basketball doubleheader takes place Tuesday night at Nashua High School North, and you wonder why the heck it’s not being held on a Friday night instead. But the schedule, done mainly a year ago, is the schedule.

There have been a couple of great, lively events of late.

One of the best atmospheres was at Nashua’s Conway Arena, when Souhegan and Belmont-Gilford played a fantastic game that ended up with the Sabers winning a thriller on a goal with 35.8 seconds left in overtime.

Souhegan and Belmont-Gilford? Yes. The referees dominated the first couple of periods with a lot of penalty calls, as is sometimes the case in Division III hockey.

But the third period was loud, fans cheering on every shot. Then came overtime.

The student sections came down from the stands to go up against the glass. Was there potential for things to get out of control? Maybe, but it didn’t happen, as it appeared there was enough faculty and adult supervision.

It was what the high school sports experience should be all about, with the players playing in front of friends with loud support.

As the Sabers came off the ice, they were greeted by their fans. It was perfect, a scene we hope is recreated in the five weeks that remain in the winter season.

The second best atmosphere? Try the unified co-ed basketball game between North and South at Nashua South a week ago.

It was a 3 p.m. start and the Belanger Gym was louder than these ears have heard it in years. Absolutely fantastic. If you haven’t seen a unified game, with special needs athletes teaming up with their student partners, you’re missing out. It’s heartwarming, and well run in soccer and basketball by the NHIAA.

But what was so special about this event was the support the athletes received from what was basically a student-oriented crowd. That led the mind to wander a bit and wonder, for Tuesday’s boys (5:30 p.m.) and girls (7) basketball games, why not hold them in the afternoon, right after school? The students are still around, so is a lot of the faculty, and the one would think the atmosphere would be great.

Fridays are different with no school the next day. But on Tuesdays, students go home, have other things to do once they leave the building, and it’s unlikely a lot of them will come back. Granted, adults have to work and they would miss some of the games, but usually many parents find a way to be there.

The suggestion here is to just try it. North and South played their first of two ice hockey games at 2:40 p.m. on the first Monday in January, and while not the same crowd as you might get on a Saturday afternoon, there were plenty of students there because school had just gotten out.

Now, a start before 3 probably isn’t the best, but try 3:30? For basketball, 3:15 would work, time for kids to make the trip from one school to the next while the home team’s crowd would be all set. It’s probably best to do these early starts with schools that are close by. Also, you have to have referees who can make the early time, but there is likely not that much of a shortage of those who can.

Try it, just one basketball game on a Monday or Tuesday, and let’s see.

Time for NHIAA to utilize Conway for semifinals

This coming weekend Conway Arena, as it is every Presidents Day Weekend, will be a busy place with the annual New England Collegiate Hockey Association’s championship tournament. There will be several colleges competing and the place is buzzing through Sunday.

True, it’s non-varsity hockey, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the competition, the talent level, and the crowd enthusiasm.

So that brings this comment: It’s time for the NHIAA to look at Conway Arena as a tournament semifinal site. The finals are at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, which is great. But the semis in Division I are at JFK Coliseum in Manchester; Division II is at the Rinks at Exeter, and Division III boys and Division I girls is at the old time meat locker Everett Arena in Concord.

Conway is perfect for a semi. Plenty of parking (with Stellos Stadium’s lot, shared with the YMCA, nearby), plenty of good seating, and for the media, a couple of rooms to do the work.

It’s long overdue.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com.
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