Lebanon School Board approves JV-only football plan

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-27-2023 8:55 AM

LEBANON — The Lebanon School Board on Wednesday unanimously approved the high school’s plan to drop its football program to the JV level for the upcoming season.

The board also signed off on athletic director Mike Stone’s upcoming attempt to add Mascoma to its Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal boys ice hockey co-op team. However, Stone expressed doubt the request will be approved by the NHIAA, which has historically blocked four-team agreements.

Stone and Lebanon High principal Ian Smith addressed the board about the football move, and Stone explained the hockey situation.

Smith stated the Raiders will return to Division II varsity football action in 2024. Last season’s winless team and the physical pounding its undersized and inexperienced players endured, combined with plummeting participation numbers, convinced Smith and Stone that playing varsity in 2023 might kill the program off altogether.

“We thought about moving to Division III, but that wasn’t an option,” said Smith, who previously wrote in an email to players and parents that scheduling difficulties blocked such a transition. “We met with the team and talked to the NHIAA and other Division II athletic directors.

“This is a stopgap measure and not ideal, but a decision had to be made sooner or later and we made the one we thought made sense.”

The decision’s announcement was pre-empted last week when Milford High advertised online for an open varsity football date, the ad’s text explaining the void occurred because Lebanon no longer had a varsity team. The Raiders played for the 2019 Division III title and lost in the 2021 Division II semifinals before 15-year coach Chris Childs and all his assistants stepped down.

“We regret that some information got out before we were able to tell parents and students,” Smith said of the drop to JV. “We’re sorry for that. But we’re excited for the future of the program. There’s some good coaching and good (participation) numbers at the lower levels.”

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Two board members, Stephen Kantor and Wendy Hall, thanked Smith and Stone for the move, citing their safety concerns for smaller and inexperienced Lebanon players. The Raiders have only eight players who will be juniors or seniors in the fall and who have indicated they’re returning to gridiron action.

Stone said there are 12 current freshmen and four sophomores who are likely to play this year. The athletic director said he hopes to have roughly 10 players join the program as freshmen in 2023 and another 10 in 2024. Participation of 30 or more players would likely be needed for a varsity return, he and Smith said. Doug Johnson, an assistant last season, was hired last week as the program’s new coach.

Stone also told the board he will attempt to persuade the NHIAA to allow Mascoma to join the boys ice hockey co-op. However, an agreement with Mount Royal extends through next season, when the lone player it contributes will be a senior. There are no other Mount Royal players in the pipeline, Stone said, noting that Stevens has identified several on the way.

Lebanon could break its contract with Mount Royal in order to gain several Mascoma players next season and more down the road, but Stone said he’s unwilling to leave the Mount Royal player out in the cold. That player is in his third season with the team, and his older brothers both played for the Raiders.

“If we can’t get Mascoma, we’ll figure it out,” said Stone, who later noted it’s likely Mascoma will join the Plymouth-Kearsarge co-op if linking with Lebanon isn’t an option. “But I’m unwilling to break our commitment to that young man.”

Asked by a board member if he was confident the NHIAA would allow a four-team co-op, Stone hesitated before saying no. The board unanimously voted to approve the attempt.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

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