When Maloney and Platt met in the CIAC Class L football semifinals last season it was not just a big day for the town of Meriden.
It gave hope to a lot of high school football programs in the same situation.
Meriden is one of many municipalities in the state with two or more public high schools.
Examining the districts with multiple public schools, the football programs at those schools have largely fallen behind their counterparts from one-school towns.
The divide exists for several reasons.
One, resources are split among two schools, meaning less money per school for equipment, weight rooms and technology.
“The split resources are probably the biggest challenge,” Platt coach Jason Bruenn said. “We go from a town of 60,000 to a town of 30,000 because we have two high schools. What is incredible is the Stoddard Bowl (Thanksgiving Day game) record in 30-30-1. That speaks to how close the two schools and programs have been. For our two high schools to play in the state semis was very impressive.”
Second, the youth programs in many one-school towns such as Darien, New Canaan, North Haven and Ridgefield not only feed directly into one school, but also incorporate many of the same schemes and language used at the high school level.
It is not a coincidence those football teams find themselves competing for state championships every season.
“The truth is that knowledge is limited even if kids do play youth football,” Bruenn said. “It’s not like a town like North Haven where the kids in the youth program learn the single wing and all the plays are essentially called the same. That’s a huge advantage for those kids. Our kids run multiple offenses and defenses at the youth level.”
The Meriden schools were joined by Bunnell in Class L and Sheehan in Class M as teams from two-school towns qualifying for the state playoffs last year.
Hillhouse in 2016, 2012 and 2010 was the last team from a city with multiple public schools to win a state championship.
Of the towns with more than one public high school in the state, few have finished with a record above .500 in recent years, especially in the FCIAC.
One place where they are trying to change that is Fairfield where Warde and Ludlowe not only compete with each other for players, but also have to contend with the options students have of attending in-town private schools Notre Dame-Fairfield and Fairfield Prep.
Until last year, Fairfield had two youth football leagues.
After combining last year, this season, at the urging of both the Ludlowe and Warde coaches, the eighth-grade league was divided roughly along district lines.
Meaning, kids who will attend Warde are on one team and those going to Ludlowe play for another with a few exceptions.
“It’s very hard. It starts at the youth level. At the youth level they are playing three or four different systems and there was no continuity there,” said Ludlowe coach Mitch Ross, whose team finished 7-3 last season after a combined 1-19 record the previous two seasons. “We had two youth leagues in Fairfield feeding at least five high schools. That made it very hard for high school coaches to get involved. Now, the high school staff has taken over coaching the eighth-grade kids. It’s a lot of work for the coaches both at Ludlowe and Warde, but it is the only way to get these kids a little bit of a head start. Otherwise, they come in as freshmen and have no idea what we are doing. This way, they know our lingo.”
The Fairfield teams view this as a long-term project, but hope to see significant improvement at the high school level over the next four years.
“I think that’s the only way to try and get into the top tier (in the FCIAC),” Ross said “Right now, we have made it to the middle tier, but we are hoping to keep moving forward and continue to take these positive steps.”
Milford is also taking steps to address the issue.
Foran and Law both run variations of the spread offense, while the youth league in Milford has been using run-based offenses for as long as anyone can recall.
This year, the youth league in Milford has begun incorporating some base spread concepts to the repertoire.
“The new president of the youth league is trying to run a base offense,” Law coach Erik Larka said. “Both high schools run a spread offense. We think that can help get kids more involved at the youth level. The spread is more fun than the run-first system at the youth level. We hope they can incorporate some of that at the youth level as a way to get kids more excited about playing.”
Larka said high school practices are not as harsh as in years past and he hopes that trickles down.
“I know our practices are much more fun than when I played in high school. We play music and we run an up-tempo practice,” he said. “By doing that we also incorporate conditioning into the practice so we don’t have to end every practice running sprints and conditioning because it’s built in to what we are doing.”
Larka added that there are years where 60 percent of his players played no youth football at all. His hope is that changes as the youth programs adapt to what the high schools are doing.
Others say that as long as youth programs are teaching the players proper fundamentals, the rest can be learned in high school.
“Football comes down to tackling and blocking,” said Frank Robinson, who coaches Hall in the two-school town of West Hartford. “The youth league asks us what we’d like to see and we say we’d want them to be able to tackle and block. Since both Hall and Conard run spread offenses, that is hard to replicate at the youth level. Not easy to pass protect at that age, but that is a problem for every town. We both run our own offense and defense, so, the youth can’t mimic what we are doing.”
In Stamford, youth football is run through the middle schools, each with their own styles of play.
Like Fairfield, Stamford’s youth players disperse to Westhill, Stamford, Trinity Catholic and King, as well as schools outside the Stamford border.
“It’s hard because you can’t have the middle schools run your system because half of those kids are going to go to Westhill and a couple will go to Trinity,” Stamford coach Jamar Greene said. “We go down and work with the youth players on technique and basics but you can’t really say, ‘Run my offense.’ I think (Westhill coach) Joey (DeVellis), (Trinity coach) Tom (Broschardt) and myself have to get together and come up with a plan for what we want to see at the youth level that will benefit all of our programs. So, when the kids get up to us, we have something more to work with.”
MULTIPLE PUBLIC SCHOOL TEAM TOWNS
Municipalities with two or more public schools with 2018 records
Bridgeport: Bassick (0-10), Central (0-10), Harding (4-6)
Bristol: Bristol Central (5-5), Bristol Eastern (0-10)
Fairfield: Ludlowe (7-3), Warde (4-6)
Hartford: Hartford Public (2-8), Bulkeley/Weaver (Coop) (0-10)
Meriden: Maloney (8-2), Platt (8-2)
Milford: Foran (1-9), Law (7-3)
New Haven: Amistad (0-8), Hillhouse (4-6), Wilbur Cross (3-7)
Norwalk: McMahon (2-8), Norwalk (5-5)
Stamford: Stamford (3-7), Westhill (1-9)
Stratford: Bunnell (9-1), Stratford (1-9)
Wallingford: Lyman Hall (5-5), Sheehan (9-1)
Waterbury: Crosby (0-10), Kennedy (4-6), Wilby (1-9)
West Hartford: Conard (3-7), Hall (3-7)
Winsted: Gilbert/Northwestern (coop) (4-6)