The Hot Corner: Cougars have built something to behold

WINSLOW — How long does it take to build a football tradition? Oh, about six years.

Not talking about Winslow High School. The Black Raiders and their extended community have been crazy about this game since Butkus was a baby.

Their gridiron devotion is a given. Nobody attends a game at Poulin Field on a chamber of commerce autumn afternoon without walking away thinking that ghosts are the gatekeepers. Perhaps a few of them used their supernatural pull in Saturday's 17-6 win over Dirigo for the Western Class C championship.

It's splitting hairs and taking alphabet-soup liberties, but next Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium will mark the third different enrollment classification under which Winslow has played in a state final. The Raiders were a fixture in the 1970s and '80s when the PTC was considered the 'A' division to Southern Maine's 'AA'; a '90s juggernaut in 'B'; and now this, in their second season since settling in 'C.'

No offense to Winslow, but the closing of mills and the migration of families to greener employment pastures notwithstanding, its resounding success is an expectation. And it's easy to forget that Dirigo — a school whose athletes know a little something about expectations — endured an entire decade-and-a-half in which the only living beings handling its football equipment were moths and mice.

When current Dirigo seniors Brett Whittemore, Spencer Trenoweth, Thomas Barnett, Zack White and Co. were in third grade, they didn't even have a stand-alone high school football team in town for aspiration's sake.

The school shelved football as a budget cut following the 1989 season. Only when former players became fathers and coaches in local Area Youth Football did whispers of resurrection become reality.

Dirigo campaigned as a cooperative team with RSU 10 colleague and kinda-sorta-neighbor Buckfield, playing its home games by a babbling brook on a recreation department field behind Buckfield's community center and town garage.

Going it alone a year later seemed ambitious or insane, depending upon how charitable you were feeling that day. Progress was measured in first downs and occasional scores against the opponent's junior varsity. Wins were sporadic.

Help was on the way, however. By 2007, longtime wrestling coach Doug Gilbert had brought his intensity to the program, guiding the Cougars to a winning season. They missed out on a playoff spot in a multi-team tiebreaker.

The next year's team won eight games and earned a trip to the playoffs. And nobody in the close-knit community ever will forget the 2009 encore, when quarterback Nic Crutchfield, receivers Alex Miele and Kyle Hutchinson and fullback/defensive end Tyler Chiasson led the charge to a perfect 12-0 season and a Class C title.

It took two seasons to completely restock the shelves. There were a pair of quarterfinal playoff losses and an almost complete turnover of the coaching staff, with Gilbert handing the reins to Crutchfield's father, Dave.

This fall's flourish should be a sign to us all that Dirigo Football, Part II, is no one-year wonder. It's back on the map to stay.

These Cougars had a zest for life that admittedly drove the elder Crutchfield crazy, at times. But they also exhibited the toughness, guile, resilience and short-term memory loss that every championship-caliber program requires.

Three teams — Winslow, Oak Hill and Traip — tied for the Campbell Conference regular-season title. At one point or another on this three-month journey, Dirigo defeated all of them. On the road, at that.

In five of their eight wins, the Cougars either were tied or trailed in the second half. When Winslow went into the halftime huddle with a 3-0 lead on the strength of Dylan Hapworth's field goal, it was a reasonable assumption that Dirigo would finish this exercise of rope-a-dope with its usual finishing flurry.

Not this time. Turnovers, ill-timed penalties and a few perceptible moments of panic sabotaged a day on which Dirigo out-gained Winslow, chalked up more first downs and shut down the Raiders' triple-trouble backfield the way nobody else had.

Time will heal, though, and this year's Cougars will recognize that they were part of something bigger than any shimmering trophy. They further solidified the restoration of Dixfield, Peru, Canton and Carthage as a football community.

Not to the exclusion of other activities, mind you. Dirigo forever may be associated with a run of 11 consecutive girls' basketball regional championships that began in 1995. Its baseball and boys' basketball teams are reigning Class C champs and will have better than a puncher's chance of repeating. Wrestling could be due for a banner winter, too.

Dirigo stands second to no school in the tri-county region as one that teaches its athletes the right things, the right way. And I'll go on record as saying that none of the games kids play deliver lasting life lessons with the efficiency of football.

This community did its young men an immeasurable service by reviving the sport.

Existence is one thing. Tradition is another.

Dirigo's current wave of football players built that, and the bricks and mortar won't be disassembled anytime soon.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is koakes@sunjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter (@Oaksie72).

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Comments

 's picture

I'm happy...

...for Dixfield football. I really am. I guess I don't understand why you had to pound on Winslow to praise Dirigo football. Other teams have gone up or down three classes and have continued to win in all three classes. It's nothing new and will continue when Maine football goes to four classes. Loss of the mill decades ago didn't cause Winslow to have fewer yards or fewer first downs than Dirigo. Maybe Dirigo SHOULD have won the game. But they didn't. Winslow won the game ON THE FIELD. No excuses for allowing Dirigo more of this or more of that. In fact, in spite of that, Winslow still won the game ON THE FIELD. That's how a tradition is built.

Hart Daley's picture

A Tradition Fought For

I remember the day vividly when Scott Blaisdell and I (Hart Daley) stood on the football field at Buckfield, in front of their concession booth, watching our boys play on the Buckfield middle school team. Buckfield was gracious enough to allow our boys to play on their program since the AYF only went to 6th grade and Dirigo did not have a program. We looked at each other and said "We can do this! We can make this happen in Dixfield!" We went to work. Making phone calls to other teams and league coordinators down in OOB and they "bent" the rules and allowed us to join their program but we had to be a recreational program at first. We held fund raisers, dances, toll bridges, dozens of bottle drives and paid out of our own pockets to get the football equipment to outfit our team...We had the help of tons of parents, the Gaudet's, Blodgett's, O'leary's, Chartier's, Berry's, McCollister's, Ross's, Dakin's, Vaughn's, Gordon's, Broomhall's, Langervin's, Bernard's, Archibald's, Rosenberg's, Hutchins', Carrier's, Pomeroy's, Moulton's, Ellis', Moore's, Remeika's, Gatchell's, Dolloff's, Flagg's, Bowie's and so many others. In 2002 the boys played their hearts out and went (5-3) in a very competitive league and these boys built the foundation for this resurrected program....8th Grade: Josh Daley, Derek Robbins, Spencer Berry, Pat O'leary, Donald Bradeen, Matt Smith, Keith Gaudet, Nate Carrier, Nate Archibald, Jake Pomeroy, 7th Grade: Derek Daley, Kevin O'leary, BJ McCollister, Jon Berry, Cam Chartier, Terry Gordon, Gavin Broomhall, Ben Rosenberg, Dakota Holmquist, Brian Berry, Levi Hutchins, Enrico Ross, Curtis Bowie; 6th Grade: Keith Langervin, AJ Carrier, Jacob Fortin, Kyle Ellis; Managers; Holt McCollister and Erik Archibald; Audio / Video. In 2003 we went undefeated against teams Portland, Oakhill, Old Orchard, Tripp, Fryeburg and Gray/New Gloucester......We then went to work with the AD of Dirigo High School (Jeff Turnbull) and began attending meeting trying to convince the school board AND the town that football needed to be brought back at the high school level....we were repeatedly told by many citizens in Dixfield that "You will never get football back at Dirigo!"....We did not hear those negative voices...we knew what was best for our boys and other boys in the community and how they would benefit from this program...These boys are now men in or out of college....They should never be forgotten for without their sacrifice this program would not be in existence. THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU FOR CREATING THIS TRADITION FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO ENJOY!!

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