BETHEL – It doesn’t take long for Telstar Regional High School’s football captains to determine what they would be doing this fall if not for the community’s reincarnated pigskin program.

“Playing video games,” senior Evan Hutchinson declared.

Junior Ben Rosenberg mulled it over a few seconds longer. “Getting fat,” he said.

Head coach Tim O’Connor, an industrial arts teacher in his 20th year at Telstar, wasted little time correcting and teasing one of his star pupils.

“Er. That’s fatt-er,” O’Connor said with a smile before playfully slapping Rosenberg’s right shoulder pad.

The exchange neatly summarizes Telstar football at its current stage of evolution. The Rebels aren’t proclaiming themselves ready for prime time after a first-year crash course that included games against fellow upstarts Monmouth and Mount View, along with the Fryeburg and Poland junior varsity teams.

To a man, the three coaches and two dozen players on board are simply dedicated to awakening the ghosts of a program that won championships in the 1970s before fading into extinction a decade later.

“It’s all about having fun.” said Hutchinson, who said he gave up on the idea of playing anything but flag football in phys ed class after his family moved from Falmouth a few years ago.

Rosenberg and fellow captain Gavin Broomhall dabbled with football at the Area Youth Sports level, suiting up with players who ultimately graduated to the Mountain Valley and Dirigo programs.

They have heard the rumblings that some people in the Telstar community would rather not see their upstart program find its wings.

“People think we’re going to take away from the soccer team,” Broomhall said.

It would be hard for anyone to make that case based on this year’s evidence.

Telstar finished the regular season as the top-ranked boys’ soccer team in Western Class C, while the football players say only three or four of their current teammates ever played soccer in high school.

“The rest of these kids would be doing nothing,” said O’Connor. “And I think it’s great for the school. You look around here and we’ve got kids competing in soccer, field hockey, cross country, and now football.”

While other Maine cities and mill towns have experienced a precipitous drop in school enrollment, O’Connor said the number of students at Telstar has spiked from 280 to over 300 in the last few years.

Football here remains a self-sustaining entity. In 2004, the SAD 44 school committee gave its approval to the group attempting to launch the sport at Telstar if it could raise $70,000.

The team and its supporters exceeded their goal by more than $10,000, and they’ve spent roughly $20,000 in this first season. That leaves an ample amount in escrow for future costs such as reconditioning helmets.

Now the team says its survival is a matter of sparking community interest and keeping the freshmen and sophomores in camp while attracting new prospects.

Telstar played its first home game in a quarter century on Thursday, against the Poland JV. That date also fell on the anniversary of the school’s first varsity football win.

“Football is the best sport,” Hutchinson said.

O’Connor said that his greatest challenge as a first-year coach has been to find “11 kids who know what they’re doing.” But the coach added that the occasional frustrations are worth it when he considers the ultimate goal.

“You can’t beat a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon watching a football game,” he said.

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