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The Yankee Express

Oxford Pirates in gear for playoffs

Happy Thanksgiving to all the local sports fans. 
First off is the Oxford Pirates football team. The Pirates, 6-2, are going to the state playoffs with their huge 36-7 romp over Leicester last Friday night at Oxford High School. According to the MIAA website as of this past Sunday, Oxford will travel to number 7 seed Manchester Essex Regional HS who went 6-0 so far this season. They are located in Manchester by the Sea. For all you Pirate fans, that’s about 85 miles away by automobile. For all you real Pirate fans, get on your Pirate ship and navigate your way up the north shore. If you have a good crow’s nest, you might get their in a day. The MIAA has a way of making us local schools get to the gas pumps. This trip will hurt in your pocket book. So let’s bring home a victory. Oxford  alumn and Head Coach Jeff Clarkson deserve a tip of the fedora not only for the huge win over Leicester that secured a playoff slot, but for having the most consistent football program in the South County over the past five-plus years. 
Wins and losses are the obvious trademark of a great program, but Clarkson has built an old school culture with new age ideas and has proved he is the smartest guy in the football coaches’ classroom in these parts. Hey, nobody else is doing this consistently, so it’s Clarkson’s time to be the guy. Being a former Oxford Pirate puts him in the dinosaur category these days. Clarkson deserves that title as the smartest considering everything starting with feeder systems to enrollment and everything else that is imaginable when you have to build a program.
Parents included, meaning they get in the way of most anything in today’s world. Parents are the biggest obstacle and are every high school coaches’ nightmare. They can run a coach out of town very easily. Just look to your neighboring high school football programs for consistency and the closest comparisons are eastward to Grafton and Northbridge and Blackstone Valley Tech. Look at our own neighbors and it’s a struggle to build and maintain a winning culture. These times are not easy to be a coach. 
Most of us baby boomers could never coach as we were coached back in the glory days. Remember when everyone got a trophy 15 years ago? Well nobody wants a trophy today. They don’t care anymore. 
Back to Oxford football.  To qualify in consistency it means do it for five years in a row at a high level. Oxford and Clarkson have done this. Good for the Pirates. Oxford will play MER in Manchester by the Sea Friday night. Sixteen teams qualified in Division 8 and that’s the Division Oxford is placed in because of enrollment numbers, but they play a regional school in Eastern Mass.? Go figure? The winner advances to the semi finals. Go Oxford.

Turkey Day football
Are you getting ready for your Bartlett-Southbridge Grandaddy Turkey Day game? Or how about the Shepherd Hill Tantasqua approaching 50 years of playing each other on Thanksgiving Day? Or the newly formed Oxford – Bay Path Turkey Day game? 
Somewhere in November there is a Thanksgiving Day. Don’t tell the MIAA that because they want to go straight to Christmas so their Texas-Florida-Ohio football playoff model doesn’t include the traditional over 110 years for some schools playing a meaningful game against your rival on Thanksgiving morning. 
November was always the month that we counted down the days to the most important day ever in high school sports - Thanksgiving Day football. It’s just not the same since the MIAA blew up Turkey Day across Massachusetts 15 years ago. Entire communities used to  gear  up for the 10:15 a.m. kickoff and family turkeys were precisely cooked and timed around that kickoff time. Local taverns and bars opened their doors at 6 a.m. for indoor tailgating for all local fans that included a breakfast menu with a bloody Mary. Times have changed. Even my close friends and confidantes keep telling me to get off the Thanksgiving football soapbox. 
Times have changed for sure and you better believe this for Thanksgiving Day 2021, Southbridge is in jeopardy to forfeit playing football against Bartlett because they cannot produce a team because of not enough players. Yes, Southbridge has already forfeited two games this 2021 season because of not enough players. 
Safety concerns were the obvious reason to forfeit and the elaborated breakdown stems from the MIAA playoff format beginning 15 years ago. The bottom line is the MIAA took the fun out of football for kids. Their Florida, Texas, and Ohio adoption football playoff format has left the suburban schools in Massachusetts with a lack of interest for playing football. Way to go MIAA. Add the concussion controversy and the end result is crystal clear to this address. You can’t play football with 20 players in your program. High School football needs a shot in the arm. Start with going back to scheduling teams that are in the radius of 15 miles. Forget the MIAA schedule. That’s for Eastern Mass, not us.