hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

September 20, 2012

Editorial: Resurgent Hillies give us something to cheer about

The Haverhill Gazette

---- — You’ve got to love the attitude of Haverhill High quarterback Tommy Morgan and his teammates.

“We want to win the MVC Small (division),” Morgan told reporter Alex Lippa. (See story in Sports.) “We learned how to win last year, and I think all eyes are on us to do some big things this year.”

As a senior, Morgan knows what he is talking about.

The Hillies began last season riding a 32-game losing streak and ended that run of misery by going 4-7 for the season.

The team raised eyebrows — and expectations — with a 42-12 win over Malden in the season opener before dropping the home opener, 30-22, to Tewksbury. Despite a muffed punt return and two lost fumbles, the Hillies still had a chance to win that one, too, until a turnover with 1:39 left in the game led to a Tewksbury score.

“It’s still a work in progress,” head football coach Tim O’Connor said afterward. “We’ve closed the gap on some of the upper echelon teams, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Still there is a palpable excitement surrounding this team and, in fact, the entire athletic program.

In addition to QB Morgan, the team features terrific running back Chance Brady, who last season racked up 1,641 yards — an average of almost 150 a game. In two games this year, he’s averaging closer to 200, including a 255-yard game in the opener against Malden.

As we’ve pointed out before, it’s no accident that this year’s Hillies teams are in a position to win. After several dismal years of losing records and declining participation, school officials made a conscious decision to make sports a priority and to put money behind the effort.

Sports facilities were overhauled and user fees were cut. Participation surged, with 390 students going out for fall sports last year. The Hillies also returned to their winning ways. Seventeen sports programs saw post-season action last year.

This year, the numbers were up again, with more than 400 students turning out for fall sports programs, though the number trying out for football was actually down slightly, largely due to a large group of graduating seniors on last year’s squad.

Athletic Director Tom O’Brien is expecting an even bigger jump in the number of students participating in winter and spring sports.

The cut in sports fees is certainly a factor.

The fee is down to $100 per sport this year, with a family maximum of $600 a year, down from $850.

That’s been a godsend for parents like Maureen Zuber. It will cost her just $50 more for two of her children, Stephanie and Nicholas, to play three sports this year than it did for her oldest, Zachary, to play two sports two years ago.

The excitement around Haverhill High sports is growing along with participation.

“When I first got here, students talked about a lack of school spirit” O’Brien said. “Students who go to the games see the great atmosphere that comes with winning, and I think they want to be a part of that.”

Now that’s something to cheer about.