YARMOUTH — This is the time of year when the hours of darkness begin to outnumber those of light. It’s the midpoint of the high school fall sports regular season, when contests tend to run together and are quickly forgotten.

Tuesday night was different.

Yarmouth extended its winning streak to seven games with a 9-1 boys’ soccer victory over visiting Fryeburg Academy, which has won once in six games. The contest proved memorable not for the final score, but for the fact that each team had a player with a genetic disorder score his first goal of the season.

James Littlefield, a Fryeburg junior with a developmental disability called Smith-Kingsmore syndrome, scored in the game’s second minute by chipping the ball over the head of Yarmouth keeper Isaac Owen. Littlefield was immediately engulfed by his teammates.

Early in the second half, Jared Conant, a Yarmouth sophomore with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, entered the game with a throw-in and subsequently scored by tapping the ball just inside the left post while seated in his wheelchair (being pushed by classmate Steven Fulton). Conant’s goal, the second of his career, set off a loud celebration that included chants of “We’ve got Jared!” raining down from the bleachers.

“It’s about more than soccer,” Fryeburg Academy Coach Bob Hodgman-Burns said. “Just because you’re in a competition doesn’t mean you can’t do nice things.”

Yarmouth Coach Mike Hagerty enlisted Hodgman-Burns in planning the evening’s activities. They go back a long ways. The Fryeburg coach married a Yarmouth native, and her father, Jack Hodgman, suffered a fatal stroke during a 2012 playoff game between these teams.

When Fryeburg returned to Yarmouth the following autumn, the Clippers marked the occasion with flowers and a moment of silence in tribute.

“Tragedy brings you together sometimes,” Hagerty said.

Conant became part of the Yarmouth soccer scene in elementary school. First he played, then became a fixture on the sideline in his wheelchair as the progressively degenerative disease took a toll on his body.

His father, Barry, is an assistant coach for soccer and basketball at Yarmouth High. His wife, Rae, died of breast cancer when Jared was 4 and the family was living in New Mexico.

Last month, the fifth annual Conant Cup took place on the Yarmouth athletic campus featuring 12 teams playing 25-minute games in a seven-on-seven format. The charity tournament is both a fundraising venture for the Maine Muscular Dystrophy Association (with more than $27,000 raised since 2015) and a platform for athletes at the sub-varsity level.

“They are usually on the sidelines,” Jared said. “This gives parents and the coaches a chance to see them.”

Conant wears jersey No. 21 in honor of a former Yarmouth player, Adam LaBrie, who graduated in 2015 as the school’s career scoring leader. Last year, Conant wore No. 63 in honor of a 2016 graduate, Walter Conrad.

LaBrie, whose scoring record was broken by his brother, Eric, was the player who first welcomed Jared into the varsity program, saying he drew inspiration from Jared’s challenges to put such minor issues as midgame cramping into perspective.

Last fall, Hagerty planned to have Jared experience the playing field by taking a throw-in during a game against Lake Region. When word got to the Lake Region players about the plan, one of them stood up and objected.

“No,” he said. “We want him to have the feeling of scoring a goal.”

Conant also ended up scoring a touchdown for the Yarmouth football team with the assistance of opposing Cape Elizabeth. Connor Senger, Jared’s football-playing cousin, pushed his wheelchair into the end zone.

Caprice Littlefield, who teaches special education at Molly Ocket Middle School in Fryeburg, was a little hesitant in giving a green light to the plans involving James.

“I have mixed feelings about these things,” she said. “I don’t want him to be given things because of his disability. I like him to earn things.”

Still, she said, if his friends on the team think it’s important, then she’s OK with it. They take care of him and treat him like a brother. He has a nickname: Captain Closer.

“He was excited,” said Fryeburg senior Kyle Mercier. “It gives us more morale as a team.”

Littlefield’s first shot actually sailed just over the crossbar. A minute later, after Yarmouth keeper Isaac Owen booted a ball out of bounds, Littlefield had another chance and converted his first varsity goal.

“Good,” was how Littlefield described the feeling putting Fryeburg on top 1-0. “I want to score more.”

As for Conant’s goal, which gave Yarmouth a 7-1 lead, “it made me really happy,” Conant said. “I really liked how my team reacted.”

Owen, the Yarmouth keeper, saw a string of five consecutive shutouts come to an end. He didn’t seem upset.

“Just a feel-good kind of day,” he said.

 

 

 


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