Maybe it’s the Friday night lights. Maybe it’s the most perfect weather of the year. Maybe it’s the vast array of action. Maybe it’s just that new-year, new-hope, new-everything type of feeling.
But there’s just nothing quite like the high school fall sports season. Welcome back.
It all kicked off last week, but it only gets better from here. We’re particularly spoiled in our area to have pretty competitive squads across the fall sports spectrum on a near-annual basis. The same figures to hold true this year.
Woodland returns after a stupendous effort last fall — a trip to the Class M volleyball semifinals, Class S football quarterfinals, a pair of Naugatuck Valley League cross country titles, a berth in the NVL boys soccer final, a third-place finish at the NVL girls swimming championships, and a semifinal berth in the NVL girls soccer tournament.
Naugatuck wasn’t too shabby either — state quarterfinal appearances by the football and girls soccer squads, an NVL runner-up performance by the girls swim team, and an NVL semifinal trip by the boys soccer team.
Both schools figure to have league championship contenders once again, especially in boys soccer. The Hawks and Greyhounds have developed a fierce rivalry on the pitch, which was only magnified by last year’s memorable meeting in the NVL semifinals. That makes Sept. 26 an early-season date to circle on the calendar — they’ll get their rematch in Beacon Falls.
There are also gold-medal contenders for Naugy and Woodland in the pool and on the trails. The Greyhounds and Hawks meet in the pool Tuesday at Woodland, while Hop Brook Park will play host to the regular-season cross country meeting Oct. 8.
Not to overlook the Woodland-Naugy meetings in the other sports, but there’s an unfortunate omission from the schedule — again.
For the second year in a row, the Black and Gold will not be on the same gridiron as the Garnet and Grey. It is an unforgivable, inexcusable, gut-wrenching, spirit-killing shame.
The NVL has scheduling rules. Understood. But any rule that does not allow Naugatuck and Woodland to tangle on the football field is a bad rule, plain and simple.
During the peak of the rivalry, from about 2012-17, there was no better week on the NVL football schedule — yes, Thanksgiving included. A few of those meetings were absolute classics, including the emotional 2013 clash that served as the inaugural George Pinho Trophy game.
That trophy now sits idle at Naugatuck High, the winner of the most recent meeting in 2017. It is a sickening tragedy that a symbol which quickly grew to mean so much to both programs doesn’t get to see the Friday night lights anymore.
We can either sit and hope that the power scheduling system aligns Woodland and Naugatuck once again when a new two-year schedule takes effect in 2020 — or we can encourage the schools’ athletic directors to push for a permanent change that’ll never force us to miss that rivalry as long as both schools field football teams.
Whether they change up the league’s divisions once again to get Naugatuck with the rest of the Valley schools — you know, where the Greyhounds actually belong — or they institute a rule that allows for one non-division rivalry game to remain on the schedule permanently, local athletic leadership needs to do something.
A system in which neighboring rivals like Naugatuck and Woodland are not allowed to play football against each other is bad for the kids, bad for the schools and bad for our communities.
Alas, it will not happen this year. But there is bound to be much excitement that commands our attention throughout the best season of the year. Whether they are your kids or your neighbors’ kids, get out there and support them this fall — they deserve it.
Reach Kyle Brennan at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kylebrennan1.