Clippers can go where no team's gone before

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When Yarmouth’s football team takes the Fitzpatrick Stadium turf Saturday night, history will be within its grasp.

Not only are the Clippers playing in a state final for the first time, seeking to win the first Gold Ball in the program’s short history, but it will also mark a rare opportunity as Yarmouth seeks to follow up its boys’ soccer state title from Nov. 6 with a football championship in the same season (Bangor will look to do the same a few hours earlier).

That’s a feat that no school anywhere in the state of Maine has ever accomplished.

Hampden Academy made it to the 1998 state final in both sports, but lost football to Leavitt and soccer to Greely. York won the Class B football title in 1989 and boys’ soccer the following year. Yarmouth now has a chance to do the Wildcats one better.

While some predicted earlier in the decade that football and soccer could never coexist in a small, soccer-centric town, the reality has been the complete opposite.

“The large majority of the community simply wants all Yarmouth kids to do well no matter what they are doing,” said Mike Hagerty, the boys’ soccer coach, who just won his fifth Class B state title in 14 seasons. “Because of this, the two have coexisted well and actually supported one another very openly and earnestly. That fact is simply a reflection of the wonderfully close-knit community that we are fortunate to have here in Yarmouth.”

“Automatically, people thought having football would be a negative influence,” said Yarmouth athletic director Susan Robbins. “I will give a lot of credit to (football coach) Jim Hartman for making sure it didn’t happen. Anytime there was something that came up, he and the parents who started football went through the proper channels and rallied the community and talked about all the benefits. That’s brought the program forward. A lot of people have bought in.”

Not only have both programs excelled this fall (and last year too, when they combined to lose only four out of 33 games), they’ve both done so without a blemish. Boys’ soccer tied a game at Cape Elizabeth, but won its other 17 outings and capped arguably the finest season in program history with a 5-0 win over Ellsworth in the Class B state game.

After struggling its first two varsity seasons (0-8 in 2007 and 1-7 in 2009), football has caught fire. After starting 0-2 a year ago, the Clippers have won 19 of their past 20 gridiron outings.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Hartman. “We have great athletes in the school. We win in lacrosse and soccer and baseball. The kids know how to complete. It’s such a blessing. I hope football will now bring that to other sports and it’ll feed off each other.”

Rest assured, soccer remains a huge part of the fabric of the community. Robbins said that 32 kids are playing football this fall and 60 are involved with soccer, enough for three teams. Obviously, there’s room for both programs to excel.

“I think it’s a credit to the community,” Robbins said. “It always amazes me that we have every sport except cheering and wrestling and our school is barely 500 kids. That number’s consistent. We’re 14 square miles. We don’t have a ton of room to grow like other schools. The athletic traditions in this town are very rich, certainly soccer.

“I attribute that (girls’ coach) Rich (Smith) and Mike. Rich is the first and only coach here. When Mike came on board, we had two coaches teaching in the middle school and it was an opportunity to promote the sport all the way through. The Colts (youth soccer) program is just a machine. The parents make that happen. The high school kids come down and do clinics every Saturday morning. They have ‘buddy time.’ It provides a unique connection and gives little kids something to look forward to. It’s great to have the high school kids give back the way they do.”

Hagerty feels that the student population helps drive the coaches and that both programs are thriving.

“I haven’t seen the exact numbers in a few years, but I think we have between 85 and 90 percent of the high school student body playing athletics and I know many of them play more than one sport,” Hagerty said. “In a school so small, the fact that we have so many kids wanting to play sports is certainly inspiring for the coaches in town.

“Regarding our youth numbers, in soccer at least, we have seen no decline whatsoever as the Colts Soccer Club continues to be the largest youth sports group in town, while the youth football has been able to have enough kids to maintain their program as well. The ability for soccer and football to coexist as well as they have here primarily has to do with the terrific student/athletes, but also the wonderful support each sport has received from both the youth programs and the community at large. For the most part, both youth groups have worked well together.”

At the end of the day, there’s plenty of glory to go around.

“We have such a great athletic department, starting with Susan,” said Hartman.

“For the two programs to coexist, I think the coaches have a huge part in it,” Robbins said. “The boys support each other. (Boys’ soccer standout) Luke Pierce after the game on Saturday, gave (football all-star) Nick Proscia a big hug and congratulated him. It’s a rarity here. We’re fortunate.”

In addition to being fortunate, come Saturday night, Yarmouth might be uniquely triumphant as well.

 Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.