Fall Mountain has been playing football for 52 years. Teams have come and teams have gone; and unfortunately, most of those teams have been forgotten.
The best news is that Fall Mountain had football in the first place. I wish I was at the meetings to set up Fall Mountain football. I was a teenager at the time and have no memories of the sport beginning at the school, with the exception of the sport beginning as a junior varsity team back in the fall of 1967.
One thing I set out to do with this column was identify the father of Fall Mountain football. In the Fall Mountain region, soccer had attracted big crowds at high schools in Alstead, Charlestown, and Walpole, so how did football ever get in the door anyway?
The best answer I could find I was already aware of when I began my search. Bob “Whitey” O’Hearne. This graduate of the football trenches at Boston University – a school where former North Walpole native, Jim Stack, who played at Bellows Falls High School, was a standout player and captain for two schools of Terriers also competed – loved the sport and was a driving force behind the sport landing in Langdon. O’Hearne was the Wildcats’ first coach and – until someone else chimes in and identifies other influential figures – shall be labeled the father of Fall Mountain football.
I still am surprised that the sport was born at Fall Mountain. I was able to reach one member of the early Fall Mountain School Board days and that was bona fide Wildcat athletic supporter Gordon Gowen. I actually met Gowen at just about that time and have known him now for more than 50 years. He, like most of the area, was a soccer enthusiast but remembers some facts that were discussed at the School Board when the sports’ addition was considered.
Gowen, who competed four years in baseball at Cornell, loves sports and remembers, “The discussion pointed out several merits of the sport, which made it a good fit for the school. It was expected it would be popular with about 25 students, who were not competing in a sport in the fall, and I think that’s what it did.”
A side note: many readers know Gowen and I will pass along that the 93-year-old is presently doing very well and our phone conversation found him sharp as a whip.
Sportswriter Poody Walsh remembers attending O’Hearne’s first practice. “You could easily tell most of his players had never played the sport before. At the beginning he tossed the ball to one of his players who managed to grab the football at one end, not on the laces, and threw it back. I knew he had quite a coaching job ahead of him.”
Walsh also noted that in one of the team’s first games, he remembers standing on the sideline when O’Hearne sent one of his players onto the field. The kid started out and then stopped and looked back to the bench, asking, “Where is guard?
O’Hearne yelled back, “Next to the center!”
Orion Binney coached this year’s team all the way to the New Hampshire Division IV Championship game. The Wildcats fell to a strong Winnisquam team 20-0 and won’t be forgotten.
My earlier comment that most teams had been forgotten was in no way a swipe at Fall Mountain football. It was meant to point out that, in a region that has never thrived on the sport, most Wildcat supporters haven’t expected much from their teams. The outstanding seasons have been few in the sport’s five-plus decades of history.
The best gridders in the school’s history were not even allowed to compete for the state title. However, they did win the infamous Connecticut Valley League Title. The year was 1980. That league, which included Bellows Falls, Springfield, Windsor, Woodstock, Hartford, Lebanon, Hanover, and Stevens, had several strong teams every year. New Hampshire required their teams to play a specific number of games in state. Thus, teams in the well-balanced league were not eligible for state playoff competition.
This year’s team was the second ever to play for a New Hampshire State Championship. They are also the first team in school history to win a playoff game. Their astounding 37-0 victory over Raymond puts the team in the record books.
The 1977 team earned their playoff appearance by regular season success. There were no play-in games to reach the title game. They fell short to Plymouth 42-0 in that title contest.
Binney is in his third year at the helm of the Wildcats. The program has shown obvious growth during his tenure. They had troubles early in the title game, but they didn’t allow things to spiral out of control. Binney told me, “They brought a fumble back for a touchdown and then scored on a long screen a few minutes after that. We couldn’t get much going offensively until late. We shut them down on offense other than two long touchdown passes.”
He went on to say, “I’ll always remember this team fondly. Nothing really came easy for them this year. We had some injuries to start the year. Then we lost some kids who left the team for one reason or another, but this group always kept working. When one guy would go down, the next one would step up and play well. It would have been easy for them to chalk this up to another rebuilding year after the 0-2 start, but they believed in each other and turned it around in a big way.”
Binney also sees a program developing in Langdon. He concluded by saying, “I think this is just the start for us. Hopefully, we’ll get another shot next year.”
To submit comments or information to Bill Murphy, email email@example.com.