By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Newburyport High School’s swelling student body has put the school in a bind financially, but the increased number of students could bode well for the future of the school’s athletics program.
NHS Principal Mike Parent recently told the School Committee that the school has seen an increase of more than 100 students over the past two years, and that more students are likely coming down the pipe. This year’s freshman class, which consists of 216 students, was bigger than school officials had expected, and next year’s incoming class is expected to be over 200 students strong as well.
“We’re normally in the 180 range, give or take a few students,” Parent said. “We’ve had class sizes of 200 in the past, but since I’ve been here we haven’t had back-to-back classes with 200 or more.”
While an increase in student population can often lead to growing pains for a school suddenly faced with overcrowded classrooms and tough financial choices, it also offers the advantage of a larger pool of athletes to form competitive teams.
Obviously having more potential athletes doesn’t necessarily mean more good athletes, but based on the performances turned in by NHS freshmen over the fall and winter seasons, the future of Newburyport High School athletics looks bright.
This past fall, the Newburyport freshman football team completed an undefeated season, and then the freshman basketball team nearly matched that feat, starting the season 16-0 before losing to Saugus by one point in the season finale.
Several freshmen have already broken through to make an impact at the varsity level too. Five freshmen played on this year’s boys varsity hockey team, which went 12-8-2 while qualifying for the state tournament in the team’s first year as a Division I program, and there were also four freshmen on the girls varsity basketball team and one on the boys varsity basketball team.
“I think all in all this has been a really strong athletic class that has entered NHS, and they’re making a mark for themselves, both at the freshmen, JV and varsity levels,” Parent said.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they develop over the next two or three years.”
Bob Clarke, the high school’s athletic director, said the school has seen overall participation in freshman sports increase substantially this year as well. He said the increased numbers lend to some logistical challenges, like making sure there is enough equipment for everybody, but said that ultimately having a lot of kids is a good problem to have.
“The boys football team had 30 kids sign up, which is a very large number for us, and the freshman field hockey team had 24 girls try out,” Clarke said. “Freshman girls basketball, although their record wasn’t great, we had a large number of participants. I hope we’re going to continue to see that because I believe the kids had a pleasant experience and I think that’s what brings kids back into the athletic process.”
Though it’s too early to tell whether next year’s freshman class will stack up athletically to the current group, Parent said an early look at the district’s middle school data suggests that the next two years will see similarly large class sizes, and Clarke said the current middle school teams appear to have a lot of talent.
Clarke added that the character of the freshman class has impressed him as well, and if the kids coming up turn out anything like them, the future of NHS athletics should be in good hands.
“It’s a nice athletic class and a nice academic class as well. They’re well behaved, disciplined,” Clarke said. “It’s a very good class and I think this upcoming eighth-grade class is like that too.”