`Unity' key word for Monument Mountain football this season
The bond between the players is clear, as they lift each other on their backs to do a fireman's carry-type squat or slap hands while doing one-handed pushups during post-practice conditioning. Each rep is capped with a sprint up the large hill that overlooks the practice field.
Strong team unity is crucial for a program that needed to come together after the racial tensions that loom over this country came to a head within the community last season.
During a game against Athol on Sept. 23, a Monument player took a knee during the national anthem — mirroring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's display protesting racial injustice and police brutality.
The protest led to a Monument student suggesting to another student that the protesting football player should be "lynched," sparking a police investigation and a NAACP-organized display of solidarity three weeks later during a home game against Ludlow.
Members of the community showed support for the player during the game, as about 70 people knelt behind the bleachers during the anthem. Along the sideline, players locked hands and raised their arms as another way to display unity.
The Spartans played their best game of the season, beating Ludlow 16-2. They ended the season winning two of their last three games.
"It brought a lot of character to our team," Monument coach Chris D'Aniello said of the issues surrounding the team last season. "It definitely made us closer. Those were tough times for this team and we persevered through that.
"There were also great times. What a privilege to work through something like that with the team. Great guys around me. ... We're not perfect, but we made a lot of progress last year."
This year's team is slightly smaller in numbers, as less than 30 players were at practice on Thursday. D'Aniello said he's working to get the numbers up, but a smaller team will make for a closer-knit unit.
That strong bond starts with the Spartans' leaders. Senior captain John Field said fellow captains Kadin Shafiroff, Max Buffoni and Jeremy Tousey are all longtime friends.
"Last year the captains were friends, but this year the captains are a family," Field said. "All of us do everything together, we're four best friends."
Field said improved unity and chemistry will help the team on multiple levels.
"For one: It's getting along with each other. For two: We know that not even on the football field, but off the football field and in the classrooms, we can always count on each other to watch each others backs.
"This year there's not a single kid on this team that I don't trust."
Reach sports writer Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252 or @TheAkeemGlaspie.
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