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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #69: Winnacunnet High School Track and Football Field, Hampton

Man, the 1990s look like the 1930s.

It may seem odd to include the athletic facilities of Exeter High's longtime rival down the road in Hampton among my most memorable and meaningful places in New Hampshire, but there are several reasons that valley of horrors behind Winnacunnet High belongs on this list. First and foremost, we were there all the time - it felt like half our spring track meets took place down there, and almost always in freezing cold conditions. I can remember a lot of races on that track, and one bizarre dalliance with the pole vault on my part. My junior year, I think, we were on the bus to another meet there and Coach Grogan added the 800m to my list of races. I was not an 800 guy - back then anything longer than a 400m qualified as cross country to me - and I already had a full slate of sprints and relays. I grumped to Grogan that he probably wanted me to pole vault, too. In his inimitable style, he promptly entered me in the vault, and told me to shut my mouth or it would be the 110m high hurdles next.

Mouth (temporarily) shut, I found myself at the pole vault pit receiving hurried instructions from our resident expert, Aren Paster. As the attached archival images suggest, no amount of tutoring was going to help. Still, I toyed with the event for a while thereafter, even considering entering the state decathlon my senior year until hamstring woes interfered. Aside from pole vaulting misadventures, I have one other lasting, haunting memory of that field. It was the last place I'd ever wear football pads, the last time I'd ever suit up for Coach Ball and Coach Eustis. The last weekend in October of 1992, our Blue Hawk football team wrapped up the third in a string of mediocre 3-5 seasons with a brutal loss in the pouring rain down at Winnacunnet. The Exeter varsity hadn't lost to theirs in seven or eight years, but that streak came to a crashing halt on our watch. It still irks me a quarter-century later.

I've been back many times since, coaching with the Exeter Seahawks youth football program. I'll admit, the first few times I saw those fifth or sixth graders jog past with those damn spears on their helmets I had to remind myself not to tackle them. Judging by the 1992 results, I probably wouldn't have been able to anyway.

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