Almost a decade ago — a decade?! — a new little school called Woodland Regional took the state high school sports scene by storm by winning a pair of football championships. It was pretty cool and pretty unique for a brand-new school in the heart of the state’s most tradition-packed area to announce itself in such a grand and unprecedented manner.
Since picking up those two Class SS football titles in 2004 and 2005, though, the Hawks haven’t been able to break through again on the state stage. They have a few runner-up trophies on the third floor of the school (boys track has a few, and softball and volleyball each have one) but the two football crowns remain as the only crown jewels.
The lack of new state titles isn’t a sign of Woodland’s athletics program getting weaker; actually, it’s probably never been stronger after a year like the Hawks just had. But something(s) happened last weekend that forced the local sports page to turn, if it hadn’t already.
The newer new kids on the block in neighboring Oxford just won three state championships in three days.
The Wolverines are this decade’s Hawks. Oxford’s athletics program has just completed its fifth varsity year and already its résumé is better than some schools that have existed for decades longer.
Oxford may not have racked up South-West Conference championships (only a smattering, including two boys volleyball and a softball crown) in its first five years like Woodland did in the Naugatuck Valley League (girls soccer, football, baseball, girls volleyball and girls tennis, to get started), but the Wolverines have state titles up the wazoo.
Here’s what the Wolverines have (or will have) hanging on their light blue gym walls: four Class S cheerleading titles from 2009-12, a Class SS girls cross country title in 2011 and this year’s Class S baseball, Class S softball and Class M boys volleyball titles.
Impressive, to say the least.
It’s probably not quite an apples-to-apples comparison — there are fewer schools competing for cheerleading and boys volleyball titles, and by design Class S tournaments aren’t usually as tough as those in Class M — but it’s enough for a Valley sports fan to sit back and realize the similarities of everything that’s happened in the last 10 years.
– Athletes, coaches in parents wearing black and gold used to get all the time (and still sometimes) the “where’s Woodland?” treatment from those thinking Woodland is a tiny town somewhere; the contingent from Oxford is going through its “where’s Oxford?” process now.
– Woodland is the 107th largest high school in Connecticut; Oxford is 129th.
– Woodland is comprised of the 100th largest and 124th largest municipalities in Connecticut, and if Beacon Falls and Prospect were combined it would be 74th; Oxford is 83rd.
– Before the two high schools existed, Beacon Falls and Oxford students often attended Seymour High, which was a state powerhouse through the ‘90s and until about midway through the ‘00s. Look what’s happened to the Wildcats since they’ve lost those two groups of students.
– During Woodland’s run to the 2004 football title, it felt like an entire town was playing for a championship (some of you may remember the fire truck parade after the title game); last weekend, it felt like one team was playing for three championships.
Small towns are special places. A lot of my friends couldn’t wait to get out of here while they were in high school, but since then many of them have realized how cool these little spots are. It’s fun to be all small and cozy sometimes, but it’s also pretty cool to have people from all over the place know who you are.
That’s what Woodland and Oxford have done.
Kyle Brennan is a contributing writer for the Citizen’s News.