Judy Wakefield Staff Writer
The Andover Townsman
---- — Even the lunch workers are cheering for the winning football team at Andover High School.
”They write supportive messages on these white boards in the cafeteria,” said senior linebacker Adam Ladd, 17. “It’s great.”
Five of his teammates smiled, agreeing that football spirit is truly alive at AHS – and it’s been a long eight years since that happened. This year’s team is undefeated so far at 7-0, with four big conference games remaining.
You have to go back until at least 2004 to find Warrior football pride showing itself in the school’s hallways as it is now.
“The last time was in 2004, when the team went 10-1,” said Cam Farnham, 17, a wide receiver and kick returner.
That one loss was against Chelmsford. The Warriors play Chelmsford tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m., in Chelmsford.
“Dr. Lord (principal) announces his lightning strikes every day recognizing people for different things. Now, he mentions us. It’s pretty cool,” Ladd added.
It’s the first year for Chris Lord, who has said school spirit has been lacking. It’s been a tumultuous past couple of years at the school, as the community has dealt with fallout from difficult teacher contract negotiations, three years of temporary principals and a basketball-team hazing story that made statewide news.
Having an undefeated football team is helping to revive school spirit. And the team is not alone.
Lord lists several school successes when he talks about reviving school spirit. Football is certainly one of the successes - but not the only one.
“Our girls volleyball team is also undefeated and their coach just had his 400th game,” Lord said. “Bowdoin College just sent us a silver platter because two of their top students graduated from Andover High...the college said our kids are very well prepared for college.
”We celebrate all of our kids,” Lord said, “and, yes, we’re celebrating our football team.”
It’s a good feeling to be noticed and the football team is quietly appreciating that.
”Fans came out in the rain, all the way to Somerville to watch us play. It’s been great to see people in the stands cheering,” Ladd said.
So these six senior football players said they are focused on playing football. And, they want to win a Super Bowl championship - period. Nobody wants to bring up the past eight years of losing seasons and past references in the AHS yearbooks that basically said the football squad was an afterthought.
Of course they’ve noticed banners hanging proudly at school for other sports, including the state champion girls field hockey, girls swim and dive and girls basketball teams, but the strategy is one team, tackling one football game at a time.
And, just maybe, that will mean making room for a football banner at AHS.
The six, who have been playing football together since fourth grade, visited the Townsman this week to talk about school support and how very cool it is to have an undefeated record. The AHS varsity football program has about 60 kids on the roster. The school also has a junior varsity team and a freshman team. These six made it clear - they are just a sliver representing an entire team that is very good.
”We have depth,” Ladd said, “some really great guys.”
Before each game, Coach E.J. Perry, now in his third year as head coach, will remind players that individual statistics simply don’t matter.
”It’s all about ‘we’ with our coach. He doesn’t care who scores. He just wants our team to score and win the game,” Ladd said.
“We play as a team, not as individuals,” said Will Heikkinen, 18, and a wide receiver and defensive back.
Quarterback CJ Scarpa, 17, has impressive statistics this season with 21 TD passes so far. That’s just two shy of setting a modern area record and there are four regular season games to go.
Scarpa, who will play football at Elon College in North Carolina, doesn’t talk about the stats.
”We want to win the Super Bowl,” he says matter-of-factly. “The fans this year have been great and we just want to win the Super Bowl.”
So these guys continue their pre-game ritual after practice, very simply and reasonably quietly. After all, it’s working pretty well for them.
They eat at Harrison’s Roast Beef, hang out for awhile and then go home to do homework. A good night’s sleep follows. It’s all team talk; no one brags about individual football statistics, they said.
”Coach doesn’t allow it and we’ve been with him for three years. We just don’t do it,” said Andreas Christopulos, 17, a lineman.
”We just don’t,” shrugged Andrew Deloury, 17, a wide receiver/defensive back. “That’s just how it is.”
Coach Perry, a longtime teacher at West Elementary School, is a big believer in complete athletes, they said. That means good grades, and a caring for the community component, in addition to athleticism.
”We just showed our grades to Coach. He always checks them,” Farnham said. “The only excuse for [being] late to practice is a teacher meeting. That’s allowed. Coach is OK with that.”
When Andreas Christopulos decided to run a tutoring program for younger students last spring at Memorial Circle housing complex, he called upon football teammates to help and many did.
That was a big score in Coach Perry’s playbook.
”They are just an awesome group,” Perry said. “Just awesome.”