Howard Herman: Western Mass. football championship games should be special affairs
Western Massachusetts football championships were decided this weekend, and the champions are now one win away from playing for a state title next month at Gillette Stadium.
There has to be a way to make those Western Mass. championship games a little more special.
Certainly, for the teams that won this weekend, hoisting the trophy is a special occasion. To me, the idea of deciding a sectional title on somebody's home field kind of lessens the experience.
Soccer championship games are on the schedule this weekend at Westfield State University. Basketball titles are decided at Curry Hicks Cage. Hockey crowns are awarded at the Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield. Softball and baseball titles are also decided at UMass.
But Friday night, Wahconah won its Division IV football championship on its home field in Dalton.
Congratulations to Gary Campbell Jr., and the Warriors. You have to wonder if the win might have meant more on a neutral field.
It's a championship game. It should have the trappings of one.
As exciting as things were Friday night in Dalton or Saturday in Cheshire and North Adams, it still felt like a home game for Hoosac Valley and McCann Tech.
There are enough colleges in the region with lots of seats and artificial turf to host championship games.
How about a four-game run at McGuirk Alumni Stadium? The University of Massachusetts football program is being revived under new coach Mark Whipple. What could be better to rebuild the bridge between the college's team and the community in Western Massachusetts than playing all of the Western Mass. title games at McGuirk?
OK, so what if the Minutemen are playing Western Michigan that day? The two nicest small college football facilities are unscheduled.
Williams and Amherst have outstanding small college facilities, with lots of seats and turf. We could have two championship games at Pratt Field and two games at Farley-Lamb Field. If it becomes a destination, like the Cage is for basketball, players would start talking about going to Williams or Amherst to play.
American International, Springfield and Western New England also have nice turf fields, and if their schedules permit, could also play host.
If we're going to have championship football games, they should be special occasions. Let's find some special places to play those special games
There were 8,187 fans in the Mullins Center Friday night when Massachusetts beat Siena 95-87 in the season opener for both teams.
Derek Kellogg's Minutemen are comng off an NCAA Tournament appearance, their first since losing to Saint Louis in 1997.
That was also the year that the largest previous opening night crowd came into the Mullins Center. On Dec. 2, 1997, UMass opened at home against the College of Charleston and Bruiser Flint's team beat Charleston 52-40 before 7.536 fans.
You don't want to say UMass basketball is back, at least not without a larger attendance sample. But on Friday night, Kellogg and his players said they felt the energy in the building and that might have helped them hold off the Saints.
I don't know if this will guarantee UMass a good season or not. But if the fans keep turning out, it has a chance to be an exciting season.
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