Monday, August 19, 2013

Are you ready for some football?

by Tom Condardo

For those of you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for the 2013 high school football season to begin, your wait is over. The Pioneers reported for their first practice today to begin the long journey to Thanksgiving Day. What begins in the sweltering heat (according to the forecast for this week) will end with the biting winds of late autumn. Or looking at it purely commercially, the season starts with trekking through stores for back to school supplies and by the time it ends, you'll be Christmas shopping.

But first things first. We have a season to play. And it will be a season of big changes for Massachusetts football. The Pioneers, in particular, will see significant differences. They'll be in a new league, a new division, and they'll be fighting for one of eight spots in an all new expanded playoff format that could end with a return trip to Gillette Stadium.

As always, I'll be chronicling all the action for you in my weekly articles and photos in the Lynnfield Villager and with additional material here in my Gridblog. I was down at practice this morning and my first article will be in Wednesday's Villager. I took a couple of photos and got some initial thoughts from head coach Neal Weidman.

This will be my fifth year doing the Gridblog and for those of you new here, I thought I'd spend a couple of paragraphs telling you a bit about me.

I'm starting my 35th year covering high school football. It's actually kind of unbelievable to even type those words. I've spent more than half my life prowling the sidelines, charting statistics, and badgering coaches for post game quotes. I started right out of college and my high school football reporting career  has spanned:

  • My marriage (36 years and counting)
  • The birth, growth, and denesting of my two sons (the oldest played four years of Pioneer football and served as a captain his senior year and my smaller, youngest made it through freshman ball before pragmatically switching to golf)
  • My 35 year corporate career in executive management, sales, quality, and corporate communications with a global print/fulfillment/distribution/eCommerce organization.
  • The start of my freelance commercial copy writing business ( - yes, that's a blatant call to action for anyone in need of content creation.

I began in 1976 freshly graduated from Suffolk University's College of Journalism as a full time reporter/ad sales rep/gopher for the North Reading Transcript. I banged out my first season of articles on the Hornet football team using a manual Royal typewriter which was out of date even then (see below - that's an actual photo of my desk back then). I left the full time employ of the paper in 1977 to begin my slog through corporate life but agreed to continue to cover North Reading football. That continued through 1986 when I took a hiatus because of time constraints.

"Modern" Reporter's Workstation - 1976
I moved to Lynnfield in 1989 and Al Sylvia Jr., former editor of the Villager (and of the Transcript), decided I would now end my two year sabbatical to cover the Pioneers. I don't believe there was ever a question in that particular dialogue. That was 24 years ago and this year marks my silver anniversary season covering Lynnfield football.

In the early 90's, I spent more hours than I care to count trolling through the Wakefield and Lynnfield libraries combing through back editions of the Item and Villager to compile a statistical history of Lynnfield High football. That will answer your question of "how does he know that?" when I throw out that the Pioneers scored their 300th all time passing touchdown (which will probably happen this year by the way) or that a certain player now ranks Xth in all time Lynnfield scoring.

Being a statistical geek, let me give you the numbers. I've now covered 365 games over 35 seasons. I haven't exactly been a good luck charm for either the Hornets or Pioneers. North Reading was 44-63-3 in the 11 years I covered them and Lynnfield has been 93-161-1 in my 24 seasons here. That's a combined 137-224-4 or a dismal winning percentage of .375.

I did get to cover two Super Bowls (1979 at Boston College with North Reading and 2012 at Gillette with the Pioneers). The Pioneers also took me to two other playoff games (2009 vs Austin Prep and 2012 vs Amesbury).

I've worked with seven coaches, most of whom have been wonderfully accomodating which makes doing this job possible. I figure I've covered close to 500 players over the years. I know I've covered children of some of them. I don't think I've seen any grandkids yet, but unfortunately, I believe that is now a mathematical possibility.

I have to tell you that writing about winning years is easier, but finding the many positives as a team struggles through a tough season is extremely rewarding as well.  I've actually been more impressed with many of the players that toiled for losing squads. The drive and dedication of the those players I covered on teams that were totally outmanned against much larger Cape Ann League teams has been truly inspiring. The most fun I have is watching gangly, enthusiastic freshmen pay the price, work hard, and grow into juniors and seniors who fight for every yard and tackle. Win or lose, that's what high school football is all about.

But enough about me. Let's get this show on the road. Practice this week, scrimmage at Masco Saturday at 9 am, and we're off and running.

I look forward to your joining me for another run and feel free to comment if the mood strikes.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Pioneers Wrap Up Busy Summer

by Tom Condardo

There's a touch of fall in the air which means football can't be far away. Preseason practice starts two weeks from today so I thought it would be a good time to review what the Pioneers have been doing this summer.

I caught up with head coach Neal Weidman recently and he reviewed what was a busy summer schedule for the team. The Pioneers played in several 7 on 7 tournaments, participated in a Sunday morning 7 v 7 league, and worked out doing strength and conditioning drills three times a week at the high school.

Captain Matt Kramich in Under Armour 7v7
"It's a fine line between getting better and over scheduling the kids in the summer," Weidman told me. "I'm trying to walk that line right now."

The schedule started in June with the Pioneers participating in the Reading league on Sunday mornings. They've played in that league for the past few years and this year was a little more impromptu because of all the 7 v 7 tournaments that disrupted the schedule. However, it was another chance for them to work on things against good competition.

St. Anselm's Tournament
The first 7 v 7 tournament took place on June 30 when the Pioneers travelled to Manchester, NH to play in the annual St. Anselm's Tournament. Lynnfield did well according to Weidman.

"We made it to the semi's so we were in the final four," the coach told me. "I think it's the furthest we've ever gone. There were 32 teams and we were one of the last four standing along with Dracut, Tewksbury and Central Catholic. We lost to Tewksbury in the semi-finals."

The Pioneers defeated several good teams along the way including Manchester (NH) West and former Pioneer coach Pat Sheehan's Triton squad in the playoffs.

Under Armour Northeast 7 v 7 Championship
On July 27th, the Pioneers were one of 40 teams participating in the Under Armour Northeast 7 v 7 Championship. The tournament actually began years ago as a join effort between Lynnfield and Swampscott, gained a sponsor in Under Armour, and has now grown into one of the biggest tournaments in the area.

The Pioneers started slowly, losing tough battles to Bedford 14-12 and Masco 13-12.

Cam Rondeau in Under Armour 7v7
"We never should have lost those two games," said Weidman who was on hand as an observer. "We had Bedford beaten and then kind of handed that one to them. We had Masco beaten too. We were about to go up by two scores and they picked one off and returned it for a touchdown."

Lynnfield regrouped however and won their final two games defeating Pinegree 21-12 and a strong Billerica team 25-18. Billerica wound up making it to the final four before losing in the semi-finals to powerhouse Reading. The Pioneers were the only team to beat Billerica until they got to the final semi's.

"We ended up completely outplaying Billerica and they made it to the final four," Weidman said. "Everyone on the team ended up playing and it's tough to get in a rhythm when kids are going in and out."

QB Danny Sullivan in Under Armour 7v7
"The last two games we beat Pinegree pretty handily and played really well against Billerica. They punched one in at the end. It was unfortunate because if Masco had beaten Billerica in the final game, we would have won the tiebreaker and gone to the playoffs. Based on what Billerica did, we probably would have done pretty well."

Weidman was pleased with the effort and the team's ability to bounce back.

"The effort was good," he said. "Seeing a lot of different guys playing in different positions was good. The best thing was the fact that we started 0-2 and they had a choice. They could have just gone through the motions and gone home or they could try and make the playoffs which they almost did by playing great the last two games. So the fact that they recovered after the first two games was probably the most impressive thing."

Weidman was also proud of the fact that the players themselves ran the show.

"Quarterbacks Danny Sullivan (junior) and Adam Buchanan (sophomore) called all the plays," said Weidman. "Every single one. They did a nice job. This summer in all the 7 v 7's they learned. They called all the plays this summer as well. Based on defenses and down and distance they decided what plays to call. It was good for them. The kids got lined up, called the formations, and ran the plays."

New Kids on the Block
Weidman told me there will be some new faces on the team this year with three players returning from private school. Junior David Adams, son of former Lynnfield AD and long time Pioneer head coach Bill Adams, has returned from Governor's Academy. Junior Jake Rourke is coming from Holderness and Senior Alex Ganter is returning from St. Mary's.

Weidman said Adams will likely see action as a linebacker and offensive lineman while Rourke is a linebacker and running back. Ganter, a hockey player who hasn't played football before, will be slotted as a defensive end and tight end on offense.

Preseason Schedule
The Pioneers preseason slate is as follows:
Mon, Tues, Wed August 18, 19, 20: Helmets only practice
Thurs, Fri, August 22 & 23: Double sessions
Saturday, August 24, 10 am: Scrimmage @ Masconomet
Tuesday, August 27, 3 pm: Controlled practice/scrimmage vs. Andover
Friday, August 30, 4 pm: Scrimmage @ Northeast Regional
Wednesday, September 4, 4 pm: Scrimmage @ Winchester

The Pioneers open the 2013 season at home on Saturday, September 14 at 11 am with a non league game against Newburyport.

The first action of the season will take place a week earlier when the Pioneer JV's will take on Chelsea on September 7th.

That's it for now. Check back in a few weeks for more on the upcoming season.