Howard Herman: High school football tournament stays the same

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The news made Gary Campbell Jr. very happy.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association held its 39th annual Conference and Business meeting on Friday, and the membership approved a continuation of the current state football playoff structure.

"Getting to the state final, even though we lost, was great," the Wahconah football coach said. "Getting to Gillette was amazing. Are you kidding me?"

The vote was to either keep the current playoff structure or revert back to the pre-state playoff format whereby each of the four regions in the commonwealth would crown champions.

Since the state championship playoffs began in 2013, Campbell's 2014 Warriors are still the only Berkshire County team to reach a state championship game at Gillette Stadium.

And while Campbell's team lost to Holliston 43-0 that day, he said he wouldn't trade getting to Gillette for anything.

I didn't cover that game, but I was at Gillette for the MIAA captains breakfast. To see the Wahconah captains walking around the stadium thinking about playing for a state championship was one of the highlights of that year.

For the record, Wahconah is 1-1 at Gillette, as the Warriors beat South Hadley in a Western Mass. championship game there the year before.

Campbell said that having the opportunity to play in Foxborough would be a great way to end the season.

"I think it's good for us. I'm happy we don't have the tradition of Thanksgiving" games, he said. "Since we don't have the tradition, it's something that culminates our season."

And then there's the fact that Massachusetts won't be an outlier like New Jersey and will have state football champions.

Among the Berkshire County coaching fraternity, Campbell had state playoff experience way before anyone else. That's because he spent six seasons as the head football coach at Berwick (Pa.) High School, in a state where football is king and the state championship is revered.

"We were two games away [from a state title] at one point. We made it to the state semis and it was awesome," said Campbell, who was 46-25 in six years at Berwick.

Campbell said he's ready for the challenge of trying to get the Warriors good enough to get back to Foxborough in December.

But to get there, Wahconah — or any other Berkshire County team — would have to win a Western Mass. title.

So, how do you make the run-up to Gillette better? Campbell has an idea.

"If they held [the Western Mass. championship games] at UMass, that would be awesome," he said.

That could happen this year because coach Mark Whipple's Minutemen are in a bye week in between road trips to Troy University in Alabama and Brigham Young.

"It's still not like walking into Gillette," said Campbell, but it might be pretty close.

———

Some of you might not remember that when Campbell left for Berwick in 2006, he was going to replace a Hall of Fame coach in George Curry.

Curry died last week at age 71. He had been suffering from ALS.

It took Campbell and Curry three seasons to become friends. That's because Curry, who left Berwick in a cloud of controversy, coached against Campbell at a rival school. But when Curry stepped down from Wyoming Valley West three years later, they started to become close.

"I took away from it that kids are kids," Campbell said. "What happens around the periphery and how to handle the public and the environment was totally different from Dalton.

"If I had to do it all over again, I'd take [the job] but I'd handle it differently."

In fact, if you believe in the circle of life and all that, Curry returned to Berwick when Campbell decided to come back to Dalton.

"He wanted to beat Berwick and we wanted to beat him," said Campbell.

Curry was 455-102-5, the winningest coach in Pennsylvania history and the fourth winningest coach in U.S. history. He won six Pennsylvania state titles and won three USA Today-awarded national championships in 1983, 1992 and 1995.

Campbell recalled for me that when he left for Berwick he had no idea what he was getting into.

"It might have been the greatest learning experience of my life" in football, the Wahconah coach said.

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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