As he got closer, the Lions’ football coach began to take notice of what the fuss was about.

“I could see the football going end over end through the middle of the uprights with a high trajectory,” he said. “And when I got up there so I could peek over the fence to see the field I could see it was Ashley kicking from about 35 yards out.”

Ashley Littlefield was at Photo Day strictly for soccer purposes a year ago. This fall, she’s in two team pictures, for what began as a jovial back-and-forth in the aftermath of her impromptu kicking display has evolved into a role for the senior not only as a center midfielder on Belfast’s girls soccer team, but as the placekicker for the Lions’ varsity football team.

“The coach saw me kicking and asked how I felt about kicking for him,” recalled Littlefield. “It was kind of a joke at first, but it got more serious and then I went to the football lifting sessions during the summer and it went from there.”

Littlefield has made 12 of her 15 extra-point attempts so far this season, and while her role with the Lions so far has been limited to that specific task, it has been an unexpected opportunity to contribute to a team she watched from the bleachers before this fall.

“I really enjoy it, it’s a lot of fun,” said Littlefield, who also plays basketball and softball. “The boys have become like a second family to me, they treat me like their little sister and make sure nothing bad happens to me.”

Girls playing high school football in Maine is not without precedent, but it has been infrequent.

According to a sports participation survey conducted annually by the National Federation of State High School Associations, Maine has averaged eight girls competing in 11-player football during a given year over the last decade.

No numbers are available yet for the 2013 season, but girls playing football in Eastern Maine this fall include Kaitlyn Cota and Chassidy Orn of Orono High School, Lillian Wakeman of Washington Academy in East Machias and Shaina Nalley of Messalonskee High School in Oakland.

Cota and Orn are both former soccer players in their first year of organized football.

“I’ve always wanted to play since my sophomore year, but I never had the courage to do it by myself,” said Cota, a senior wide receiver and cornerback. “Since Chassidy started doing it, it encouraged me to do it.”

Orn, a sophomore whose brother Chad is Orono’s starting quarterback, plays offensive guard and nose guard.

“I’m not much of a physical person so it was kind of tough at first,” she said. “It’s different. We didn’t have to run as much as soccer, but it was more drills and contact and just getting you prepped for hitting.

“In soccer I liked having contact, but now I know I’m going to get hit so I know what to do and it just happens.”

The level of contact in football is what separates it from many other sports, and for Cota the acclimation process was enlightening.

“I was really surprised at how hard they actually hit people, and how hard it is to focus on the plays and catch the ball,” she said. “I didn’t think it was as hard as it is.

“The first time I made a tackle was in the first game I played. I was really scared, but after a while I got used to it, figured out how to hit and got the courage to go out and do it.”

Orn has the added advantage of an older brother to lean on, not necessarily during practices but when they’re away from the field.

“I told her before she signed up that there’s going to be battles with other guys who were going to be bigger than her, and that it was going to be tough but she was going to have to deal with it,” said Chad Orn, a senior. “She’s handling it perfectly. She’s struggling with the big dudes, but she’s handling it.

“I see her improve every single day.”

Also noticing Cota and Chassidy Orn’s gradual improvement is Orono head coach Bob Sinclair.

Cota and Orn are the first two girls Sinclair has coached during more than three decades on the sidelines.

“These two girls have done everything all the other kids on the team have done,” he said. “We don’t make an issue of gender here at Orono, they’re just two more members of our 43-player roster. That’s the way we’ve approached it, and that’s the way they approach it.

“In 32 years of coaching football, these are the first two females I’ve ever coached, and I think if you were going to have two girls playing football these are two great kids to do it,” Sinclair said. “They’re doing it for all the right reasons. They’re not trying to make a political statement or a gender statement, they just want to play football.”

Cota and Orn see game action primarily on the Red Riots’ subvarsity team because of their inexperience playing the sport, but both did see varsity duty during a game at Ellsworth last weekend.

“It was nerve-wracking, but you just have to play it out,” said Cota. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Sports News

ORONO, Maine — It was a flash in time that took Bob Sinclair by surprise one Friday night last fall.

The Orono High School football coach watched as one of his strongest, most physical players made what looked to be merely glancing helmet-to-helmet contact with an opponent from Stearns of Millinocket during the final play of the first half.

When the player didn’t rise immediately, Sinclair urged him to join his fellow Red Riots in leaving the field, which he did.

But by the time the player reached the locker room and sat down, slumped over and facing the opposite direction from his teammates, Sinclair knew something was wrong.

A trip to the hospital provided confirmation — the player suffered a concussion that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Longtime coaches like Sinclair and Joel Sankey of Bucksport are optimistic about football’s continued prominence within the American sports spectrum. But they’re also cognizant of the need to be steadfast in everything from teaching proper techniques to recognizing signs that a player might have suffered a concussion no matter how hard or slight the contact.

“You need to know your stuff so as best as you can you can account for every scenario,” said Sinclair after a concussion management seminar for Little Ten Conference coaches held Saturday at Orono Middle School.

“Not every athlete is going to show the classic signs of a concussion, so as we learned today you need to know your kids and you need to do the best you can to be prepared for any situation. In our case we couldn’t quite believe what we were seeing, and it turned out to be very serious. It ended well, but you never want to be in that situation.”

Topics addressed during the two-hour seminar included the evolution and proper fitting of football helmets, tackling techniques, the role of certified athletic trainers and school nurses in head injury management, and determining when a concussed athlete is ready to return to the team and classroom.

“It’s all about education and awareness and being proactive with regard to this issue,” said Mike Archer, athletic administrator at Orono High School and secretary-treasurer of the LTC. “Concussion is the buzzword in athletics now, not just at the high school level but also at the collegiate and professional levels. We need to do everything we can as administrators and coaches to make these kids who are playing football know that we want to put them in the safest position possible, but in doing that knowing we can’t guarantee anything. There are still going to be players who are going to be concussed.”

Bill Rice, regional sales manager for football helmet manufacturer Schutt Sports, acknowledged that “concussions have mushroomed into a public health issue.” He added that rule changes, new helmet materials, attention to tackling techniques, lighter and better-performing equipment and practice contact limits at some levels of the sport all have enhanced player safety.

“The irony is the game has never been safer from a technological and protective perspective,” he said.

Chris Sementelli, director of sports medicine at Maine General Medical Center in Augusta and Waterville, outlined elements of Maine’s recently adopted law that directs schools to develop a team of medical professionals to deal with head-injury cases. He also emphasized the need for school medical personnel and coaches to work closely with each other and with their student-athletes in order to recognize concussion signs and symptoms more effectively.

“Knowing your athlete is critical with this point,” Sementelli said. “Know their bents, and know their attitudes toward adversity.”

Dr. Cameron Truby, a primary care sports medicine physician at the Bangor-based Downeast Orthopedics, discussed the various stages of concussion assessment and recovery a student-athlete must pass before returning to school and practice, and said one of the related challenges is that no two concussions are alike.

“Every kid is different, every concussion is different and every concussion within a kid is different,” he said.

Veteran and newer coaches alike agree that in part due to advances in sports medicine and the attention now placed on such injuries as concussions, their jobs have grown into something far more complex than teaching football fundamentals.

“It’s interesting to hear all the different points of view and all the new material that’s coming down,” said Sankey. “In a sense it’s kind of frightening. I’ve been doing this for a long time, 40 years or so, and you look at it now with the threat of lawsuits and wonder why people would want to get into this. With budget cuts, we went from having a doctor on the sidelines with a trainer to now where we don’t have a team doctor and we don’t have a team trainer. The ambulance crew is always there, but it puts a lot of responsibilities on the heads of the coaches.”

Those same coaches expect their sport will continue to thrive, particularly if health concerns such as concussions can be alleviated.

“I think football will survive as a sport and as a game,” said Sinclair. “It might look different, but in the time I’ve been involved with it, and Joel, too, the types of offenses you’re seeing, the types of strategies that are employed, the types of fields you’re playing on, it’s evolved quite a bit. You’ll probably see more of that, and safety probably will be what drives that, but I think football will survive as an institution.

“It’s a pretty good American game.”

Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Health and safety, Sports News

PORTLAND, Maine — Spencer Carey, who led Lawrence High School of Fairfield to its second straight Class A state championship game appearance, and standout two-way tackle Jack Lucy of Orono are among 12 semifinalists for the 42nd James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy announced Wednesday.

Carey starred at both quarterback and safety for coach Jack Hersom’s Lawrence club this fall, while the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Lucy has been the backbone of an Orono line that fueled one of Eastern Maine’s top rushing attacks in recent years under veteran coach Bob Sinclair.

“It’s no secret that we’ve run behind Jack for four years,” said Sinclair of Lucy, a four-year starter and two-year captain for the Red Riots, who played in the LTC Class C championship game in 2011 and advanced to the semifinals this fall.

“I’d call him the force behind Orono football for the last four years. He’s been a fierce competitor.”

Lucy, who was named first-team All-LTC Class C on both offense and defense in 2011, also is the top-ranked student in Orono’s current senior class.

The Fitzy has been presented since 1971 to the state’s top senior high school football player each year, with school and community involvement and academic factors also part of the criteria.

The Portland-based award originally was reserved for Class A players, but players from all classes statewide became eligible for the award during the 1990s.

Other semifinalists are Brian Bedard of Leavitt of Turner Center, Bobby Begin of Thornton Academy of Saco, Cale Bollig of Westbrook, Tate Gale of Portland, Donald Goodrich of Cheverus of Portland, Nick Leblond of Biddeford, Dillon Russo of Scarborough, Alex Shain of Sanford, Chandler Shostak of Cony of Augusta and Kenny Sweet of Deering of Portland.

The slate of semifinalists will be narrowed to three finalists shortly before Christmas by a vote of the state’s coaches and media.

The annual Fitzpatrick Trophy banquet will be held at noon on Jan. 20, 2013, at the Holiday Inn By The Bay in Portland.

Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Sports News

Blog coverage of Orono Football

ORONO — Mention Orono High School to any Eastern Maine football fan with a sense of history and the word juggernaut might come to mind.

It’s a fitting adjective, albeit a generation removed.

Jack Lucy knows that better than most. Even his role as a starting two-way tackle on this year’s 9-1 Orono team that will play at Bucksport for the LTC Class C title Saturday doesn’t give him bragging rights when he goes home after practice.

His dad, John Lucy, played for Orono in the late 1970s and early 1980s and never experienced defeat — not once — as the Red Riots ran off 48 consecutive victories between 1977 and 1982.

“Even in this great season we’re having,” said Lucy, “we’ve lost more games than my dad did his entire career.”

This year’s Orono team, however, has taken significant strides in restoring this program to contending status by qualifying for the LTC final for the first time in 15 years.

Many of the veterans on the roster endured a 1-7 campaign in 2009, then went 3-6 last fall.

“We had some tough years,” said senior tight end/defensive back Tyler Higgins. “But we built on that because we wanted to bring the Orono football program back. We were a really young team with a varsity schedule back then. We just took the beatings and learned from them and grew up.” Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Sports News

ORONO — The offense didn’t come easy Friday night for the Orono Red Riots.

Orono averaged an LTC-record 52.9 points per game this season, but it was its stout defense that was the difference in the biggest game of the season.

Second-seeded Orono held John Bapst of Bangor team scoreless in the second half and rallied for 16 fourth-quarter points to pull out a 24-14 LTC Class C football semifinal victory at the University of Maine’s Alfond Stadium.

“We all got a little bit worried, but we knew we had to come back,” said Orono senior quarterback Bryce Mehnert. “We’re a second-half team. It’s always tough to beat a team the second time around.”

Coach Bob Sinclair’s Red Riots (9-1), who had beaten the No. 3 Crusaders 46-21 on Oct. 14, earned a spot in the LTC championship game for the first time since 1996. Orono will travel to Bucksport next Saturday to play the Bucks in the final.

Orono held John Bapst to 171 total yards.

“People have talked so much about our offense and the points that we’ve put up over the course of the season, they tend to forget we’ve got a pretty good defense, too,” Sinclair said. “Our defense hung tough.”

Dan O’Connell’s John Bapst squad wound up 7-3 and had its streak of consecutive title-game appearances halted at four.

Orono spent the evening chasing around Bapst’s receivers and trying to get to John Bapst quarterback Deven Romain. Defensive backs Dominic Mowrer, Tyler Higgins and Nick Spaulding, along with tackles Jack Lucy and Zach Landean and end Christian Mowrer, led that effort.

Trailing 14-8, Orono held the Crusaders in check in the second half. A couple of partially blocked punts by Christian Mowrer and Lucy aided the Riots in the field-position battle.

It was a pass play that finally jump-started the run-oriented Riots early in the fourth quarter.

After a John Bapst punt, Orono took over on its own 44-yard line. On first down, Mehnert (3-for-11, 60 yards) lofted a pass down the right sideline to senior tight end Higgins, who caught it and was knocked out of bounds after a 39-yard gain to the JB 17.

“It definitely fueled that drive, which was crucial to the whole game,” said Mehnert, who got decked on the play. “It got us the momentum from then on.”

Three plays later, Christian Mowrer (14 carries, 83 yards) slashed up the middle on an 11-yard run that tied the game. He added the conversion rush, putting Orono ahead for good.

Higgins intercepted Romain (13-for-27, 141 yards, 2 TDs, 2 interceptions) on the ensuing possession, then a high punt snap through the end zone on John Bapst’s subsequent series made it 18-14.

The Riots put the game out of reach with a 10-play, 47-yard drive that culminated in Cameron Mowrer’s 5-yard scoring run with 1:16 to play.

John Bapst played much of the fourth quarter without linebacker Nick Jordan, who was in on at least 12 tackles. End Max Andrews also was a defensive standout.

Orono’s balanced ground game netted 208 rushing yards on 54 attempts, including 71 yards on 18 carries from Dominic Mowrer and 61 yards on 18 tries from Cameron Mowrer.

Orono opened the game by marching 70 yards on eight plays. It included a 34-yard pass from Mehnert to Higgins and a 20-yard run by Dominic Mowrer. Mehnert punched it in from a yard out and Dominic Mowrer added the PAT rush.

John Bapst equalized on its second possession, going 81 yards in eight plays. Romain completed five passes, including a 13-yard scoring toss to Max Andrews. David Dieuveuil’s kick cut the deficit to 8-7 with 1:47 left in the first quarter.

The Crusaders took the lead in the second quarter when Romain hit a wide-open Jake Moore on a 44-yard TD pass. The PAT made it 14-8 at the 4:34 mark.

“They can strike deep at any time,” Sinclair said. “They’ve got lots of weapons and they’re good at it. We knew coming in this was going to be a dogfight and it was.”

Tyler Eddy made an interception later in the half to keep Orono within striking distance.

Bapst, which didn’t run the ball effectively out of its spread scheme, didn’t have much success throwing the ball after halftime. The Crusaders managed only three first downs in the second half.

Andrews made four catches for 55 yards, Andrew Catlin had four receptions for 49 yards and Moore finished with three grabs for 64 yards. John Bapst rushed for only 30 yards on 14 attempts.

“We had to stick to our man, play heads up,” Higgins said of the defense. “We won our one-on-one battles and we stuck it out.”

Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Sports News

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