Bishop Guertin mulling athletic classification

There’s some changes in store for New Hampshire high school football next year with schools like Windham trying to figure out what Division they want to be in.

The Jaguars have already made that choice, publicizing this week they are moving up to Division I in most sports, including football. It will change rivalries and in football, likely change some conference alignments.

Will it change what happens with Bishop Guertin football? The odds are against it, but you never know. This year, for maybe the first time in a while, the Cardinals are looking at where they currently sit in Division I.

Every two years, when reclassification takes place, they inform the NHIAA they want to “move up” to Divsion I from where their enrollment would place them in Division II in all sports. It’s basically been a formality. The only sport the Cards stay in Division II in is wrestling.

But this past week, athletic director Pete Paladino, Guertin principal Jason Strniste and head coach Jeff Moore had to have at least a little bit of conversation involving football, because the deadline for all petitions is this coming Monday.

It’s clear the pigskin program in terms of numbers isn’t where they want it to be. We’re talking low 40s to mid 30s – including freshmen – as opposed to the mid-60s where it was a couple of years ago.

The reasons are many – the concussion concerns, year-round commitments to other sports, other injuries, etc.

It’s finally showed up on the field. Guertin went into Friday night’s game with city rival Nashua North at 1-5, and it’s clear the Cards aren’t on the same level as North or South. They’ve been forced to play a lot of underclassmen who, in a lot of ways, are not yet mentally or physically ready for the level it takes.

“We’re thinking about it, to see what’s best for us,” Paladino said this week. “But I think Division I is where we belong. We’ve done pretty well there (three playoff berths, one West conference title in the three years of the current system). Not the best results this year, wins or losses, but. …”

Paladino clearly likes where the Cards are placed in football. It’s in a conference with two other city teams and another local rival in Alvirne.

“Yes,” he said. “I think just like every other school in the state, probably in the country, they’re feeling some pressure about (football) numbers dropping with the concussions and everything else.

“To do our due diligence we’re going to look at it, but I do think Division I is probably where we belong.”

If the Cards went to Division II, they’d have Souhegan, Milford, and perhaps Pelham as nearby rivals. But it’s not the same.

“To me, nothing against those schools, but I like competing against those other (local) schools in Division I and everything else,” Paladino said.

Paladino said that you might argue the Cards could be Division II in, say, boys and girls soccer, “because they’re struggling this year. But that’s just one bad year. Then if it become a trend, OK, at the end of the next two-year cycle, you take a look at it.”

That could happen with football.

“The numbers are an issue, and there are other issues as well,” Moore said. “I hope they get better, but moving forward it doesn’t appear they’re going to get much better.”

It’s a good debate. But we’d much rather see the Cards get their numbers up and stay put.

“From a school standpoint I don’t know if it makes sense to or not,” Moore said. “I think the school wants to be a Division I school and I understand that. But I really don’t know what the right thing is for the team, either way, without all the other pieces of it. There’s a lot involved.”

Moore is clearly concerned about the future. Guertin, despite all the precautions, including special equipment, has had a high number of concussions and has an extensive protocol (good idea) for return.

The perfect world for BG football seemed to be the old Division II of the Tony Johnson-coached dynasty era, but of course in last few years that changed. Some athletes have gone to the school from other towns because it’s currently in Division I. Senior quarterback Sam Raitt, who is from Milford, echoed that sentiment this week.

So the Cards won’t want to lose that element. They won’t want to travel to the far reaches of the state to compete. But if this current trend continues, they won’t want to get their heads bashed in either.

Pros and cons.

Being a private school, Guertin also hears the voices of its alums. The thought is the alumni would want it to stay put, but they also will likely need to make their voice known in terms of solutions for the fuure.

In the Tony Johnson days, the Cards wanted a lot of their best athletes on the football field and also playing other sports thereafter. Not as many of their best athletes appear to be playing football these days.

“In a lot of programs, the numbers are down and the freshman classes are down,” Moore said. “But it’s not everywhere. It’s not Exeter, Pinkerton. But here, it is an issue. But I definitely think all those outside factors are things you have to think about before you make a move.”

Moving down isn’t always the answer, as it masks internal issues. It didn’t really help Alvirne a few years ago when they did it for one season before the current setup was created.

The best scenario? BG should stay in Division I, but also start to address the football problems it’s beginning to have before they become long term.