Marshwood High’s storied high school football program was supposed to be honored at the most revered sports stadium in New England on Wednesday.

Instead, it turned out to be another event scrubbed by the unrelenting coronavirus pandemic, now fueled by the omicron variant.

The inaugural Wasabi Fenway Bowl college football bowl game between Virginia and Southern Methodist University was canceled Sunday because Virginia had a COVID-19 outbreak within its team. The Fenway Bowl is one of three college bowl games that have been wiped out so far by COVID.

The Fenway Bowl would have been the first college bowl game played in New England. Marshwood High’s football program was going to be officially recognized with an in-game announcement and then a post-game, on-field ceremony.

“They wanted to honor one high school football team from New England that was pretty accomplished,” said Marshwood Athletic Director Rich Buzzell.

Marshwood, which opened as a school in 1966, has won 22 Maine football championships. The Hawks have won six of the past seven Class B crowns, including this year’s 14-13 championship win against Windham. Plus, the school has a connection to the Fenway Bowl’s title sponsor. Wasabi Technologies Chief Marketing Officer Mike Welts is a 1979 Marshwood graduate.

Marshwood players surround head coach Alex Rotsko in a celebratory dance after winning the Class B state championship against Windham. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

Marshwood had a traveling party of about 150 players, coaches, parents and alumni planning to attend the game, said Coach Alex Rotsko. The invitation was actually made before the Maine high school playoffs began, Rotsko said.

“I thought it was really nice of them to invite us. It was more of a celebration of the program than one season,” Rotsko said. “It was really nice that we ended up winning it all this year.”

In addition, about 14 members of the Wotton family were expected to join the team. Rod Wotton, who died Nov. 24 at the age of 82, coached Marshwood to its first 16 state titles. His teams won championships in all four classes: Class D in 1966, 13 Class C titles from 1971 through 1986, the Class B title in 1988 and then Class A in 1989.

“I felt it was super important to invite the Wotton family,” Buzzell said. “Rod Wotton put Marshwood on the map and we wanted to make sure the family was recognized.”

Wotton retired as Marshwood’s coach after the 1992 season with a 220-33-1 record. He returned to high school coaching in 1996 at St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover, New Hampshire, coaching another 15 seasons, winning four New Hampshire state titles. When Wotton retired after the 2010 season with a lifetime record of 342-81-3 he had the most wins in New England high school football history.

Rod Wotton in 2007. Portland Press Herald file photo

“Marshwood has always felt like family for our family,” said Peter Wotton, the eldest of Rod and Norma Wotton’s three children, prior to the Fenway Bowl cancellation. “Being invited to participate, I think it reestablishes that fact. Which is pretty special for our family.”

Peter Wotton said his father kept an eye on Marshwood’s current success under Rotsko.

“My dad just thought the world of (Rotsko).”

Marshwood is 89-16 in nine seasons since Rotsko became the coach in 2012. Rotsko was named the 2021 Varsity Maine Coach of the Year. Maine high schools did not play football in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“In fact, we invited the seniors from (the 2020) team to go along with us,” Rotsko said. “Then on top of that you have the passing of Coach Wotton. It would have been a great year to celebrate the program.”

Marshwood had intended to donate a football game jersey, signed by current players, to the Fenway Bowl organizers for future display at the home of the Boston Red Sox. Buzzell said he’s unsure at this point if the jersey can find a home at Fenway.

“We’re waiting to hear back from them. I’m kind of hoping we get invited next year if they have a bowl game,” Buzzell said.

The Hawaii Bowl (scheduled for Dec. 24) and the Military Bowl (Dec. 27) have also been canceled. The Military Bowl between Boston College and East Carolina was canceled Sunday because Boston College had more than 40 players unavailable because of COVID-19, injuries, opt-outs and transfers.

Two New Year’s Eve bowl games have had a team withdraw. The Gator Bowl secured Rutgers to replace Texas A&M to play Wake Forest after the Aggies pulled out because of a lack of available players. The Sun Bowl is trying to find a replacement for Miami to play Washington State, which has already traveled to El Paso, Texas.


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