WILMINGTON — For the past three years, Craig Turner has spent the majority of the Labor Day holiday fully invested into his Wilmington High School Football program. Whether it was practice, films, meetings with coaches and players, this day was always a very busy one as the team would have just three more days before the season would officially start.
Reached by telephone on Monday morning, things were much different for him on this Labor Day Holiday.
"It's obviously very strange. I was telling my wife (on Sunday) night that it's the first time I've had Labor Day off since I can remember," he said.
Like every other high school football coach here in Massachusetts, Turner has some extra time on his hands from now until late February when football will hopefully begin.
"I'm happy that we're giving a shot to at least try to get a season in, but it's really tough on the kids," he said. "They have been working really hard all summer, so we're trying to stay positive and keep them in the right frame of mind. Football in February, I'll be quite honest, I don't know how that's going to play out but I'm happy that they are at least giving us a chance to play."
Coming off two tough seasons with records of 3-8 and 4-7, Turner was hoping that with the young nucleus of players who took their lumps while getting the varsity experience, could take the next step up starting with what would have been the season opener this Friday against Woburn. With the season moved to the 'floating season', he was asked if he thought the right decision was made.
"It's tough because they are playing in New Hampshire. I live in Westford so I'm ten minutes away from Nashua and they'll be playing football there, but we can't here," he said. "It's tough. You turn on ESPN on Friday nights and you see high school football games on each week, so I think there's 37 states in the country that are playing football now in the fall season. Unfortunately we're not one of them.
“Do I think we could have done it safely? Yes. But I also know there are a lot of moving parts, especially with the stuff of just getting kids back into school I think athletics rightfully are put on the backburner unfortunately, but at the same time the kids need to get back to normal — or as normal as we can."
As far as he knows, Turner said all of the coaches on his staff and all of the players will be part of the program come February.
"I haven't heard anybody that's not. I've had a couple of kids ask me if they can play soccer in the fall and I said sure, absolutely, go ahead," he said. "Our kids have worked really hard all summer. Normally the coaching staff would run workouts and we haven't been able to get into the building and do any of that yet.
“We haven't been able to do anything at the field, the kids have informally done a lot of stuff on their own. I think it was kind of a kick in the gut when they heard that we weren't going to be playing because it keeps getting pushed back. I really do think that giving us a shot to at least trying to have a season is what is most important."
The fall schedule had Wilmington with non-league games against Woburn and Somerville to open the season before getting into the Middlesex League games against Melrose, Watertown, Burlington, Stoneham and Wakefield before three weeks of either playoffs or the non-playoff format, and then Thanksgiving against Tewksbury. The schedule for the February season will be different. Turner said that he has not heard anything thus far about the new schedule.
In last week's Tewksbury Town Crier, TMHS Football coach Brian Aylward said that since the MIAA realigned the districts from across the state, non-league games can only be held within own districts, which in Wilmington and Tewksbury's sake, would be teams from the Middlesex League, Merrimack Valley Conference and also the Dual County League.
"We're going to try to squeeze as many games during that time period that we can," said Aylward. "We are looking at a couple of different models that we can do within the guidelines that have been handed out by the MIAA — you can stay within your league and within your district. We have traditionally been in District-A, which would be all of the MVC teams, some of the Northeast Conference teams and some Dual County and Middlesex League teams.
"The thing about the three leagues is there's no leagues of eleven teams and one league that has 12 teams, so there's 34 teams that are already split into a large and small so there's different ways you can go about it."
Both Aylward and Turner were asked if they knew if there would be any kind of playoff format.
"I haven't heard anything about the schedule, except I know all of the dates," said Turner. "I'm sure there won't be any kind of playoffs or I don't see how they could with such a short time frame. I was expecting them to do some kind of conference championship game, just based on the time table that there is so maybe something can be worked out so there's some kind of postseason for the kids. One of the things that a lot of the kids have said to me is that they are hoping that there is some kind of playoff system because they want something to work towards. I can't disagree with them.
"I just hope (the MIAA) is creative and follows suit with how they were able to fit football in, that they would have that type of creativity to create some kind of postseason for the kids. It's unfortunate that they are not doing that in the fall for the kids who are playing those sports. I don't understand the logic there."
Aylward said in last week's edition that is thinks there could be a possibility of it, but he hasn't heard anything concrete.
"I think we do have some time to look at everything, " said Aylward. "We have some time to look at the possibility of kids playing for a championship within your league. Everyone will have that type of opportunity to play all of the teams in your league, whether it's the MVC large and small, the Middlesex League Liberty and Freedom Divisions and Middlesex League large and small, so there's possibilities of crossovers."
Dating back to 1935, Tewksbury and Wilmington have played one another, with almost all of the games on either Armistice/Veteran's Day or Thanksgiving morning. Since there won't be any touchdowns scored on the holiday this November, Aylward was asked if a game against the Wildcats is still on the table.
"Wilmington would be within our district," he answered. "Every team, large or small, in the three leagues, in order to fill out your schedule, are going to need to play some crossover games. I want to say that there's maybe five or six combinations of traditional Thanksgiving opponents that are not within the same league. Those schools could use those games as a crossover. Those are all things being talked about, so it's just a matter of putting something together that's in the best interest of the kids and give them a semblance of a normal season that you can."
Turner did have an idea when it came to the possibility of playing Tewksbury this year.
"Maybe we'll play Tewksbury on Patriots Day or something," he said.
While there's so many unknowns at the moment, Turner added that his heart has been broken for a long time because of what the high school kids have had to go through for the last six months.
"I was talking to other football coaches over the summer and I never at any point expected us to have a fall season just because of the way stuff was going on around here (in the state) with the trend. I was hoping we would but it just never felt like it was going to happen which is sad,” said Turner. “I think I tweeted out that I don't know what I'm going to be doing on Thanksgiving.
“The whole thing just stinks and I just feel so bad for the kids. They certainly have been given a tough situation, so I just hope that we can make football in February as close to normal football as we can for those kids. I do feel bad about complaining that we are moving our season to February when the teams and the kids from this past spring lost their entire seasons and they didn't even have a chance. Those juniors lost that season and now we're supposed to have this fall season, so if and when it happens, it's not going to be the season that they envisioned and that's just really tough."
TD CLUB CAR WASH
The annual Football Car Wash will be held on Sunday September 13, 2020 at the Fourth of July Building Parking Lot from 9 am-12 pm.
In the event of inclement weather, the car wash will be rescheduled for Sunday September 20, 2020 during the same time. All monies raised from donations will benefit the WHS Football Program. The Team is looking forward to getting back on the field for the "wedge season" scheduled to begin on February 22, 2021.
The TDC would like to thank the parents, community members and local businesses for their ongoing support to raise funds for scholarships, equipment and expenses not covered by the athletic budget.