ROCKLAND – New, fresh-out-of-the-boxes football uniforms were distributed Friday to players who tried to act nonchalant. Here and there, looks of approval appeared.

Goodbye the orange and black their fathers and grandfathers may have worn. Hello white and two shades of blue. New is new beginnings, and when you’re a teenager, that can come with a certain excitement. Someone picked up the new cry: Go Blue!

The Fighting Tiger that once prowled the high school’s brick wall outside is gone. The tiger face on the wall behind one basket in the school gym remains.

“I can’t just whitewash him,” said Jim Leonard, the athletic director of the district where everything old has been made new with the merger of schools in Rockland and Thomaston. When students report for the first day of school in another week, the familiar high school building in Rockland will be Oceanside High. Mariners is the new nickname.

School corridors have been repainted with a wide band of white over a small band of Columbia blue and a wider band of navy blue. The trophy cases outside the gym look a bit empty, ready to accept the symbols of success earned by what once was Georges Valley High, maybe 10 minutes south on Route 1.

“I called up to Mountain Valley and asked,” said Leonard. “What do you do with all the trophies from two schools that no longer exist?”

In 1989, administrators of the school created by the merger of Rumford and Mexico faced the same question. Their answer: State championship trophies from the two schools were displayed in cases, ultimately joined by the victory spoils of the new school.

Good idea, said Leonard.

In a state that does embrace its high school sports, the emotional toll of losing the identities of the Rockland Tigers and Georges Valley Buccaneers has lessened. The realities of combining new sports programs from schools in separate conferences remains.

“The devil is in the details,” said Leonard. Such as?

Uniforms for every sport had to be replaced, mostly paid by fundraising. What should the coaches’ apparel look like? What should the season tickets look like? How do you portray the new Oceanside brand?

The do’s and don’t’s for student-athletes at each school were different. What should the new athletic code say?

The former Georges Valley, now called the Oceanside West campus for grades 8 and 9, has better soccer facilities. Practices and games will be played there. Leonard discovered he’ll need four buses transporting 80 to 90 athletes back and forth on Route 1 for various sports.

What does he do with the memorabilia collected from decades of competition? Sportsmanship banners, for instance. Special autographed stuff from special teams. The football team alone has four generations of football uniforms.

Leonard has a room in the old high school on Lincoln Street dedicated to storage. He hasn’t yet found a room among the schools in Thomaston.

“I get about 10 phone calls a week from people asking if they can buy something,” said Leonard. “Or if we’re going to hold an auction.”

Think of the potential money raised through an auction. Nostalgia does have a price tag. At the same time, something from the sports histories of two schools should be kept. No one from Rockland wants to forget the 1992 unbeaten boys’ basketball team, just as Thomaston natives will never forget the greatness of Sam Pendleton-coached soccer teams.

Leonard’s choice of the word “whitewash” regarding the tiger face in the gym was spot on. That painting was done by Eddie Harriman, a local artist known and liked by many. He would no sooner whitewash Harriman’s gift as he would whitewash the sports accomplishments of two schools.

In the spirit of the new school community, a bearded Buccaneer, raising a cutlass over his head, adorns the wall behind the other basket. A mariner’s compass has been painted at center court, pointing true north. Meaning north and south are not aligned with the baskets. Nice attention to accuracy.

Football coach Woody Moore counted about 40 candidates at his first practice on Monday. Maybe a half-dozen were from Thomaston, which didn’t have a football program.

“That tree isn’t ready to bear fruit,” said Leonard. But it will.

A touch of weariness sounded in his voice. He grew up in Rockland, and his father taught at Georges Valley and has spent the last 10 months working nonstop on the merger, which isn’t simply matching something from column A with its counterpart from column B.

“It is like fitting the pieces of a puzzle together — if you’ve got to find them first. I’m sure there are some under the carpet and I’ll find them later. I just hope that won’t be painful. The key is to get everyone talking.”

His cell phone rings. Sally Boivin and he talk a lot. Boivin is also working through a transition, because Jay and Livermore Falls have combined athletic programs this year, with the academic side to follow in 2012 at what is now called Spruce Mountain High School. But the Jay and Livermore Falls model is different. Those two schools were big rivals in the same conference.

Athletic directors from other school districts call.

“They’re hearing the ‘C’ word more and more,” said Leonard, referring to consolidation.

Parents and some longtime fans may count heads and note addresses, but Leonard isn’t concerned. He listens well when he talks with Mountain Valley AD John Bernard, who was the girls’ basketball coach at Mexico.

“The athletes will drive this transition,” said Leonard.

They’ll know it’s usually their work in practice and their talent that earns them a starting position.

Oceanside opens its football season in two weeks against Nokomis of Newport, a relatively new football program. Already there is talk of the Mariners winning two of their first three games, or all three.

It’s the sound of a new beginning.

Sports Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]