Turners/Pioneer co-op begins

  • Turners Falls quarterback Kyle Dodge returns for his senior season and this fall he will have a deeper arsenal of weapons to throw and handoff to with the addition of former Pioneer players joining the team. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • After rushing for over 1,000 yards last fall for Pioneer, Wyatt Keith is one player expected to make the transition to Turners Falls this fall. staff file photo/dan little

Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2018 11:34:38 PM

When the Turners Falls High School football team opens camp tonight with the parent’s meeting and equipment hand out, there are going to be some new faces in the room, albeit some the Thunder’s players and coaches may be familiar with.

Only last year, those faces were lining up on the other side of the football.

Thursday marks the first day of the brand new football cooperative between Turners Falls and Pioneer Valley Regional School. It’s a move that will help reinvigorate a Turners Falls program that would otherwise have struggled with numbers, and also gives the remaining players from Pioneer a place to play, since there would not have been enough numbers to run a program this season.

The cooperative will fall under the Turners Falls banner. The school will assume all costs associated with running the team, and will also take all money collected at the gate. The only cost to Pioneer is the salary of assistant coach Nick Lawrence — who has been a stalwart on the Panthers’ sidelines for several years under multiple coaches. Not only does Lawrence’s presence help put a familiar face in the locker room for those players who are making the transition from Pioneer, it also keeps alive the very real possibility that Pioneer will once again have its own varsity program in the future.

“That was sort of my, ‘It has to happen thing,’” Pioneer athletic director Gina Johnson said. “We are losing out on a Homecoming game, a Thanksgiving Day game, things like that. And we are also gaining a lot, but the one thing I really had to have was one of our coaches on the staff.”

Johnson and Turners Falls athletic director Adam Graves both expressed hope that in the future the programs could once again be independent. Each school is keeping its own middle school team this fall, and the hope is that if the schools can get through some current tough times in terms of numbers, the programs might be able to return independent of one another.

“The intent is to bring the program back,” Johnson said.

The standard procedure for cooperatives is for them to remain in place for two years (unless there is a major change in numbers after one year), and Graves said that after the 2019 season, both programs will reassess where they are.

“The hope is that somehow, some way, we will go back to being Turners, and they will go back to being Pioneer,” Graves said. “Right now, it’s a way for us to give kids from eight or nine towns the chance to play football.”

The idea for the cooperative first came to light late last fall when Pioneer and Turners Falls met in a non-qualifier game before Turkey Day. Pioneer had 16 bodies on varsity, and Turners Falls had 15. According to Graves, he and Johnson discussed the idea in February and began to run with it. Pioneer knew it was not going to have a team at that point due to lack of numbers, and Turners Falls was close to the line, although Graves thought the program would be safe for at least the 2018 season. Johnson said that the biggest thing for her was to ensure that some of the Pioneer players who were entering their senior seasons and had been involved with the program since seventh grade, had a place to play.

“Of course we want to be able to put a Pioneer uniform on, but that was just not going to be possible,” she said. “You really have to do what is right for the kids. This gives them the chance to play, and they are walking into an established program.”

Turners Falls coach Chris Lapointe agreed, saying that at the end of the day, the cooperative gives players the chance to play.

“We accept the Pioneer players with open arms. It’s good that the kids on both sides get to play football, and hopefully in the future both programs could recover and rebound,” he said.

Lapointe said that he had 17 players from Turners Falls sign up for football, and believes that five players will be joining the team from Pioneer. Both of those numbers could change as conditioning gets underway Friday afternoon at 4.

Turners Falls will end its season as always with the Turkey Day game against Greenfield High School. Pioneer’s former Turkey Day opponent, Franklin County Technical School, will host Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School Thanksgiving morning.

Greenfield Recorder

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Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
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