The Hot Corner: Maine needs Mr. Football award, now

Enough is enough.

I've given the gang that annually presents the Fitzpatrick Trophy rope that stretches from here to Portland, mostly because I thought their good intentions outweighed their geriatric provincialism.

There comes a time, however, when inexplicable decisions expose either ignorance or ill intent that no longer can be ignored. That alarm went off this past week.

The Fitzy folks had a chance to atone for an egregious 2011 ballot that excluded the state's most complete player, Sam Dexter of Messalonskee, and its most prolific running back, Jeff Turcotte of Lewiston.

We all wanted to believe — and by "we," I mean those of us who actually watch high school football for a living or coach it as an avocation — there was no malicious intent.

Silly we.

The coveted statuette turned to fool's gold Wednesday when the dozen Fitzy semifinalists of 2012 became public.

Missing were the names of Mt. Blue quarterback/defensive back/punter/kicker/return specialist/honor student/gentleman/everything but popcorn vendor Jordan Whitney and Brunswick tailback/defensive back/two-time state wrestling champion Jared Jensen.

Notice I didn't say "snub." That's the word we use when a team with a hundred holes in its resume gets omitted from the NCAA basketball tournament and probably deserved to stay home.

Whitney and Jensen were ripped off, period. They belonged on that ballot, and the sin of their omission is a fatal blow to the credibility of what is, at least for now, the only gridiron honor of its kind in the state.

Each put up senior-year numbers that are ridiculous for Maine's weather-compressed football season. Whitney threw 28 touchdowns and led his team to the Class B state title. Jensen rushed for roughly 2,200 yards and dragged his team to within a point of the Eastern Class A final.

Each was a three-year starter. Both had a multiple-interception game on defense.

The Pine Tree Conference coaches — you know, those guys who don't sleep from August to November and digest multiple game films of every team between bites of doughnut and swigs of high-test coffee at 4 a.m. — selected Whitney and Jensen as players of the year.

I'm not going to list the names of the 12 young men who were Fitzy-approved. You may find them in previous editions of this publication, or elsewhere. None of them did anything to deserve having their candidacy diminished. I trust the coaches who nominated them enough to accept that each was the best senior player on his team.

The raw data is worth looking at, though. Seven of the 12 players hail from the SMAA, or Western Class A. And I hope you're sitting down for this one, but all three of the Portland city schools are represented.

Most of us up here in Southern Canada (north of Exit 64, in other words) have come to accept that as a battle we're never going to win. So let's put aside geography and cut to the Xs and Os.

By the universal assessment of almost every football personality whose opinion I respect, Whitney and Jensen are two of the three best senior football players in the state. That is, their excellence was so self-evident that their place as finalists was a no-brainer, never mind the formality of being semifinalists.

Because anybody with a clue about Maine high school football knows this, I've had to suffer people speculating what other misdeeds might have gotten the two left off the ballot. The Fitzy put academics and citizenship into the award criteria back in the late 1990s.

Please believe me when I say that is not an issue. From all indications both are solid in the classroom, good citizens, involved in their communities and bound for college. I've never met Jensen. I've interacted with Whitney many times and would be proud to call such a kid my son, my nephew or my neighbor.

So what gives? The cut from 76 nominated players to 12 is the part of the process shrouded in the most secrecy.

Draw your own conclusions based on the evidence. I still cling to the hope that it is ignorance and not malice and forethought. My personal impression is that the decisions are made largely by guys who haven't attended a non-Thanksgiving Day game since the Eisenhower administration.

Whatever the case, with the Fitzy's despicable double-diss for the second straight autumn, I humbly submit that it has forfeited the right to recognize the state's outstanding player.

Not that it will go away anytime soon. It has 42 years of private support, public awareness and name recognition on its side. But it also has a majority of the real football minds in the state keenly aware of its regional bent and the holes in its process.

Maine's other sports have equivalent awards. Mr. and Miss Basketball. The John Winkin Award in baseball. The Travis Roy Award in hockey. They work because they put the verdict in the hands of the people who follow the games as a course of their everyday life.

Not saying those trophies are 100 percent politics-proof, but from my experience, integrity prevails.

It is time for Mr. Maine Football. It is time for coaches, athletic administrators, writers, broadcasters and officials to get in a room, brainstorm and make it happen.

If you are one of those people, call, write or follow up by any means necessary. Yes, it will take time, money and some tinkering. Of course, it may take years to overcome the perception of the Fitzy as Maine's Heisman. Heck, Mr. Football may end up honoring the same kid nine years out of 10.

Having enjoyed a ringside seat for the past 24 seasons, I have seen the time, energy, blood, sweat, tears, smiles and laughter invested by the likes of Jordan Whitney and Jared Jensen, and I can promise you it will be worth it.

Let's do this.

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 tried to delete the second one...

...and ended up creating a third. Sorry. If the administrators can delete the second and third entries, I'd appreciate it.

 's picture

Well said...

I was involved with the Fitzy at the beginning, not during the past 20 years. Back then, people who belonged being nominated were nominated. We were proud of that then and righty so. That hasn't been the case the past few years, not just the past couple. I remember back when Lewiston, Waterville and Bangor, the three "northern" teams in Class A, would have a good idea and the Portland area schools would smile and say "That's nice, now go away." It seems we've returned to that era.

 's picture

Well said...

I was involved with the Fitzy at the beginning, not during the past 20 years. Back then, people who belonged being nominated were nominated. We were proud of that then and righty so. That hasn't been the case the past few years, not just the past couple. I remember back when Lewiston, Waterville and Bangor, the three "northern" teams in Class A, would have a good idea and the Portland area schools would smile and say "That's nice, now go away." It seems we've returned to that era.

 's picture

Well said...

I was involved with the Fitzy from the beginning. Back then, people who belonged being nominated were nominated. We were proud of that then and righty so. That hasn't been the case the past few years, not just the past couple. I remember back when Lewiston, Waterville and Bangor, the three "northern" teams in Class A, would have a good idea and the Portland area schools would smile and say "That's nice, now go away." It seems we've returned to that era.

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