Let the CHaD All-Star Football Week begin
Jared Chandler had a captive audience on Friday afternoon.
It was a nice day. Little golf? Beach? Trip to the Lakes Region?
Nah. These graduated high schoolers, sitting in a circle on the Clement M. Lemire Complex field turf at Manchester Memorial High School were all suited up in pads and helmets, because football was the game and CHaD (Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth) is the name.
That’s why Chandler, the Manchester Central alum, had their attention, telling this year’s assembled CHaD All-Star Football Game West squad he’s an assistant coach for that this upcoming week would be one they’ll never forget.
“Like I told the kids, it’s fun, exciting, enjoy the moment, enjoy the week,” said Chandler, who played in the first CHaD game back in 2012. “Once it’s over, it’s over. Some are fortunate to go on to the next level and play, many are less fortunate. But you’ll never play with this collection of talent, that’s for sure.”
A year ago, this game, played for such a great cause, was an adventure. It took three days and two sites to get it played, thanks to a round of fierce thunderstorms that swept through the region just before kickoff on a late June Friday night at Saint Anselm’s Grappone Field. After numerous lightning delays, they squeezed in a splashy quarter and finally the event was halted. Saint A’s wasn’t gong to be available after that, but with the always connected Jim Schubert (former longtime Central coach) coaching the West, a couple of calls to city officials were made and Memorial was secured as the host for the final three quarters two days later with the West prevailing over the East, 25-14, with former Merrimack Justin Grassini winning the Most Valuable Player award and former Souhegan standout Tucker Aiello’s third quarter pick six the most valuable play.
Hopefully, this year, as the event returns to its more often home at the University of New Hampshire a week from today at 1 p.m., we can get it played in one take. But either way the players are simply tickled to be here.
“It’s going to be pretty fun,” former Nashua South (doesn’t that sound strange?) quarterback Sean Holland said. “I’m definitely excited about it, to be with old teammates and also some friends, like the Merrimack kids. It will be a good time.”
The players get notified of the honor in January, and then assemble and head up to Hanover to visit the hospital and all the very less fortunate youths, some fighting for their lives that they’re playing for. Many of the players then hit the streets and their cell phones to raise money for the event; you’ll read some amazing stuff about that both here and elsewhere, to be sure.
“I’m honored to be part of the whole organization,” Concord coach Eric Brown, who is serving as the West head man this year and was an assistant six years ago. “Just taking a trip to the hospital in January, it really hit home. It hit home with me, but it really hit home with a lot of the kids. They’ve done an awesome job with their fundraising efforts and I think they understand why they’re here. That part’s over. I am and I think they are anxious to get started (with football).”
Still, the cause and the game go hand in hand. Milford’s Michael Boucher, Nashua South’s Derek Chiavelli and Bedford’s Demetri Anagnost led the running drills. Why? Because, as one coach told them, “You raised the most money.”
Great stuff. Some players, as we’ve hinted, will be playing in their final football game ever. That includes a few big local names from last season, including Nashua South linebacker Jarret Bieren and his teammates Alex Amigo and Derrick Downing, plus big former Bishop Guertin lineman Sam Colantuoni. So that makes this even more special.
But if you think it’s incredible to see all the talent on the practice field, wait until you see the game.
“The hardest part was picking these guys,” Brown said. “It was really hard. Certainly (coaching) against a lot of the kids the last three or four years, some of that was really easy. But some of it was really hard. Players I haven’t seen play. It was very challenging picking the team.”
“It’s really cool,” Holland said. “I’m excited; it’ll be a good step before college, all the best players from New Hampshire getting after it. It’ll definitely be exciting.”
It’s CHaD Week. Good week. Special week and special cause.
Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK.email@example.com