An era that should end

The Campbell High School football team had a pretty good year in 2013.

The Cougars went 5-3 in head coach Greg Gush’s first season, and just missed out on making the South Conference championship game in Division III.

Campbell had three players earn division first-team honors, including quarterback Christian McKenna, who was also selected to participate in the CHaD East-West NH High School All-Star Football Game.

That game, which was played back on June 28, featured two teams full of the best players in New Hampshire.

On Saturday, McKenna will take part in another football game, one that used to showcase the best players in the Granite State.

New Hampshire will play Vermont in the 61st Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, and McKenna won’t be the only player representing Campbell when the teams take the field at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Dartmouth College in Hanover. He’ll be joined by former teammate Cody Alward, who wasn’t a part of the CHaD game, nor was a Division III all-state selection.

Alward is a solid football player. He has to be to be a part of the Shrine game, but there’s also a reason why he wasn’t selected as a CHaD all-star or receive D-III honors.

It’s the same reason why there are more players on the New Hampshire roster from Litchfield than there are Nashua, or Concord, or Manchester.

Well, technically not that last one, as there are two Trinity kids – Brad Rhoades and Tristen Theroux – but none from the public schools in Manchester.

It’s not that the kids from New Hampshire’s biggest schools aren’t good enough to hack it with the likes of kids from Campbell and Epping-Newmarket (two kids) and Merrimack Valley (two kids).

It’s that they’re too good, or they’re viewed as too good by those who organize the Shrine game. After New Hampshire stretched its winning streak over Vermont to double digits, officials began making rule changes to try to help out the kids from the Green Mountain state.

Now, instead of taking the best of the best – which often included more kids from the bigger schools – New Hampshire is taking the field with the best of the small schools … and still winning.

The Granite State will be looking for win No. 14 in a row in this year’s game. Last year, the pregame chatter was about how Vermont’s offense was going to be tough to stop, and New Hampshire won 43-0.

That’s how it’s been for the last decade-plus. Only one of the games during this NH win streak has been close, and that was in 2007, when New Hampshire won on a fourth-quarter field goal.

The dominance goes back even further. Vermont’s last win was in 2000, which was its second win in three years, but before that, the Green Mountain state had won just twice since 1978. So in the last 36 games, New Hampshire has a 32-4 record.

The attempt to help out Vermont isn’t just limited to what happens on the field. In the past, the two teams had practiced at Kimbell Union Academy, which is located in Meridan, N.H., a town not far from Hanover, where the game has typically been played. In the years before that, each team practiced at a facility in its own state.

But for the last two years, practices have been held at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., which is just a short drive from Glen Falls, N.Y. The practice site is actually closer to Albany than it is Nashua, which is why there is likely a noticeable decline in stories about the Shrine game amongst New Hampshire media.

The bottom line is that there is only one good reason to continue the series, and that’s the money it raises for the Shriners Hospitals. That’s tough to give up, but if the funds raised from the Shrine game need to be made up, maybe it’s time Vermont considers holding its own all-star game, like the CHaD game.

Let each state hold its own in-state, all-star football game. The interest – and the competition – is there in the New Hampshire game, and it will be there for Vermont as well.