NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 21, 2014

Facilities upgrade at Pentucket a needed plus

High School Sports
Dave Dyer

---- — It’s tough enough for public schools to keep up with private schools.

There’s the perception, right or wrong, that students may get a better education at a private school and learn more. There’s little that public schools can do about that.

But when students choose the private route because of athletic success and, even more, athletic facilities, that doesn’t seem right.

That may be a problem at Pentucket. Despite being acknowledged as an excellent school, it regularly loses students to St. John’s Prep, Central Catholic and others.

The athletic facilities have been fading for years at Pentucket, in particular its outdoor ones, and the school district is finally going to act.

With construction scheduled to begin in the late spring, Pentucket will construct a new 8-lane track and six tennis courts behind the adjoining middle school and build two new fields, one within the track and the other in front of the school where the current tennis courts are located. The project is expected to cost roughly $1.3 million.

In addition, the field hockey/softball practice field in front of the school will be leveled and reseeded.

Everything should be ready by the fall, with the fields needing another growing season before usage.

All of the changes are needed, but the track was most critical.

Head coach Steve Derro has built a strong track program at the school, but the track facility was in such disrepair that it’s been at least five years since a home meet has been held.

Also, while tennis matches have continued to be held, the courts have been in desperate need of repair or replacement.

“We’re pretty excited, especially about the track,” said Pentucket athletic director Dan Thornton. “Track’s our biggest sport (participation-wise) and this should be a real championship-quality track. It’s going to reach a lot of athletes.”

Pentucket still has more work to do, like dealing with its small gymnasium. While it has a “Hoosiers”-type feel to it that makes home games a fun experience, the MIAA often makes it move tournament games because of insufficient fan space.

There is also serious talk about, among other things, adding lights to the football field and adding all-weather turf. But those are down the line.

At least this is a start for Pentucket.

When asked if this will help keep some of the district’s better student-athletes at Pentucket, Thornton wasn’t sure, but he said “it certainly doesn’t hurt.”

In fact, it should help a lot.

Moreover, in the wake of Central Catholic’s announcement that it’s building a new all-weather field on its campus, and continued expansion at St. John’s, it’s probably a necessity.

Other school districts, like Georgetown, which certainly needs to work on its football/soccer field, should probably follow Pentucket’s lead.

Winter reflections

One can’t help but be happy for veteran Londonderry girls basketball coach John Fagula, who ended his career with a Division 1 state title. Fagula is not only a tremendous coach, but a super guy.

Kudos to Greater Lawrence boys coach Dan Habib and Georgetown’s Barry Spears Sr., both of whom enjoyed excellent seasons.

The loss of Mike Rowinski at Georgetown is still tough to handle, but Spears made the best of a tough situation.

It was an interesting reversal in fortunes for Haverhill High. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the Hillies were powerful in basketball and struggling in hockey and — to a lesser extent — wrestling. This year, Haverhill struggled to earn wins in hoops, but qualified for the state tournament in hockey and won 19 matches in wrestling.

It was quite a winter at Brooks, led by the wrestling team, which went 19-1 and won the New England Prep crown.

The boys basketball team made it all the way to the Class B championship game and both hockey teams made the tournament and had fine seasons.