Sunday, March 9, 2014
The kickoff after the Marshwood High touchdown was high, deep and too close to the sideline. Rich Buzzell, the Marshwood athletic director, watched its flight and worried.
If the football went out of bounds untouched, Marshwood would be be flagged with a penalty and Wells would get the ball in better field position. It was the second half of their Western Class B semifinal two weeks ago.
The ball landed at the Marshwood 7. Instead of tumbling out of bounds, it kicked back toward the middle of the field. Buzzell relaxed. When he realized more fully what he had seen, goosebumps appeared and a chill ran down his spine.
"Seven was Troy's number," said Buzzell, speaking of Troy Pappas, last year's senior quarterback who died Oct. 5. "We marked the field at the 7 in his memory. That's where the ball hit. He's watching over us."
Marshwood won that day, 15-13. In the Western Maine final, Marshwood beat York 21-20, again on its home field.
About 75 miles north of Marshwood High, the victory bell tolled at Bates College last Saturday. Its football team had just defeated Hamilton, giving Bates its first winning season since 1981.
Coach Mark Harriman had recruited well in recent years. The talent and character of those recruits paid off with a 5-3 record. As the celebration continued, Harriman thought of the freshman who was absent. Troy Pappas was on his mind.
"(His death) didn't make anyone a better player," said Harriman. "It made us a closer team."
Harriman was named Co-Coach of the Year in the New England Small College Athletic Conference this week. The first winning season in 31 years was noted. So was the passing of Pappas and Harriman's compassion in his 15th season at Bates.
"To see the emotion of the older guys who saw how much the freshmen were hurting and supported them was something," said Harriman. "To see the strength Troy's family showed us in their support for one another made us stronger. Obviously it was a tremendous tragedy I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy to go through."
Pappas had been with his new team for only five weeks but his teammates were already his brothers. He was a giver rather than a taker. Someone who easily found common ground with people he met.
He was caught up in the new enthusiasm in the locker room and on the practice field. No Bates class had strung together four winning seasons since the 1960s. Helped by Pappas, the goal was to change that.
Then he fell off a railing in the stairwell of his freshmen dorm. He hit his head. He was in the hospital for six days.
Teammates maintained a vigil at the hospital, freshmen on up to the senior class. The day after Pappas died, his teammates had to play a game. Bates won, beating Williams. The victory bell on the Lewiston campus tolled. The Williams coach led players from both teams in prayer at midfield after the game.
Healing is part of grieving. The process started that day in early October on the football field.
In South Berwick on the same day, Marshwood dedicated a walkway to its field and a marble bench to the memory of Guy Lajeunesse, a former football coach who died of cancer in May at age 51. The community had prepared itself for his passing. Pappas' accident was the bolt out of the blue.
Saturday night, once-beaten Marshwood will play undefeated Mt. Blue at Fitzpatrick Stadium for the Class B state title. Marshwood players and fans will carry both the former coach and the former player in their minds and hearts.
Last week, some Marshwood players shaved No. 7 on their heads. They wear his number on their wristbands. His initials are on the decal sticker they put on their helmets. It's the same sticker Bates players wore on their helmets.
South Berwick and Eliot send their children to Marshwood. Both places, near the border with New Hampshire, have seen plenty of new families move in. That hasn't diminished the sense of community, said Buzzell.
"Troy was pretty close to Guy. And everyone knows the Pappas family."
Many times a football team is family. Shared grief and shared joy. At Marshwood High and at Bates College, it's been an autumn of both.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: