Lebanon, Claremont football get back to the gridiron with changes in place

  • Lebanon football player Connor Brown snatches a field goal kick during practice on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon High School health teacher Emily Kehoe takes player Talan Patkul's temperature at the start of practice on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 in Lebanon, N.H.  (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon football coaches Todd Bircher, left, and Chris Childs attach face shields to players' helmets during a practice on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2020 9:31:05 PM
Modified: 9/17/2020 9:30:55 PM

LEBANON — When the Lebanon School Board gathered on the night of Aug. 25 to discuss fall sports, Chris Childs anxiously awaited its decision, watching on his computer at home.

The Lebanon High football coach wanted the season to get approval so he could teach the game but, more importantly so his son, C.J., a rising junior, could have a chance to play.

So when the school board approved the return to sports in an 8-1 vote, Childs was just grateful for the opportunity to get back to football.

“I have a son now, and I want him to have the opportunity to play football,” said the coach, now in his 14th year. “That’s what he likes to do, and that’s what all those kids like to do. You only have so many times to play football, so to be sitting there and watching a computer screen hoping that the school board approves you ... that was a nervous time in our household.”

The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association laid out guidelines for each sport but left the decision of actually playing fall sports up to school districts, which is why the decision by the Lebanon board was such an ordeal. The Granite State is also the only state in New England allowing full-contact football this fall.

Childs was given approval earlier in the summer to hold workouts with the main objective of making sure players were in good shape and used to physical distancing come fall.

The return to practice on Sept. 8, however, came with its share of new procedures. In Lebanon, players are now prescreened before practice and expected to keep distanced when possible. The Raiders’ athletic department also ordered clear plastic face shields for players to wear on their helmets, which has let Childs and his coaching staff start allowing contact at practices.

“Since we’ve gotten those on there, we’ve gone back to playing football,” said Childs, whose team is coming off of a loss to Trinity in last year’s NHIAA Division III championship game. “You know at some point you got to tackle and run your offense.”

Over in Claremont, Stevens coach Paul Silva is employing many of the same methods.

At the end of practice, his coaching staff sprays down helmets and shoulder pads before the gear is put in an individual bag that is then taken home by each player

Water breaks look different, too. Water is provided, but players are asked to bring their own water bottles to fill. Jugs are then taken by the trainer at the end of practice and disinfected.

Silva’s also adamant that any player on the sideline this season will be wearing a mask. He has secured neck gaiters for all players and expects them to pull them up when they’re walking off of the field.

Plus, he said, the gaiters will be on athletes instead of a mask that could be floating around on the bench or sitting on the bus.

“Just the fact that they’re able to put the uniform on and practice, that’s huge,” said Silva, who is entering his 10th year as the coach of the Cardinals. “Hopefully, we’ll get to play the whole season. But just getting to play one game is huge for us.”

Still, both coaches are aware that this season will look different.

Neither Lebanon nor Stevens will be participating in any scrimmages. And while both took part in summer workouts, the time spent in practice with pads on is significantly less than in years past.

What will the huddle look like? Hugs after a huge touchdown run?

Time will tell.

Notes: Lebanon hosts Stevens on Sept. 25 to open up the season. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ... The Raiders make the jump to Division II this season after last year’s 10-2 campaign. Jack Stone will take over at quarterback, and C.J. Childs and Nyeoti Punni Jr. will share carries in the backfield along with Hartford transfer Cole Shambo. Calvin Bates is back at wide receiver. ... Stevens graduated running back Keaghan McAllister, who was a 1,000-yard rusher the last three seasons. The Cardinals return quarterback Owen Taylor.

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.

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