BRUNSWICK — September 24, 2021 began as a day Collin McCaffrey had long awaited. He concluded as one that he and his teammates would very much regret.
McCaffrey, a running back for the Brunswick football team, was in class in the early afternoon of Sept. 24, 2021, several hours before the Dragons kicked off their football game against Lawrence. Then, out of the blue, the football team was called in for a meeting that marked the beginning of a months-long nightmare for a storied show.
“We were all in our jerseys and we were fired up, ready for the game and in that mindset,” McCaffrey said. “Then they called the whole team into the conference room and said we weren’t going to play our homecoming game that night and we weren’t going to practice on Monday.”
Superintendent Phil Potenziano had announced a pause in the show as a result of an investigation into allegations of hazing, intimidation and harassment among team players during a preseason team retreat at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick.
Then, on October 6, the Brunswick School Department announced it canceled the remainder of the high school football team’s season and fired veteran coach Dan Cooper in the wake of his hazing investigation. Several players had also been cut from the team. The Dragons, who had played in five of the previous six Class B state championship games, were 1-3 at the time of closing.
The suspension of the season raised questions about the future of the show.
Maine Directors Association rules state that a varsity team that does not complete its schedule will not be allowed to compete for the next two years. The rules provided exceptions for COVID-related closures.
Facing a two-year suspension, Brunswick filed an appeal with the MPA in mid-December 2021 to have its football program reinstated. Brunswick won his appeal in January, launching a return to the sidelines this fall.
“I felt confident with (the appeal), and our administrative team felt confident, but there’s always a little bit of nervousness when you leave your fate in someone else’s hands,” Brunswick athletic director Aaron Watson said. “Our reasoning was that we wanted to give our student-athletes a great experience, the MPA gave us that opportunity and we are glad to have it.”
Three months after winning the appeal, Brunswick hired a new head coach, Brandon Dorsett. Dorsett, who graduated from Portland High in 2005, spent the 2019 and 2021 seasons as Westbrook’s head coach after years of holding various assistant coaching roles at Maine and one as linebackers coach at IMG Academy in Florida.
Dorsett has to rebuild at Brunswick following the loss of a 17-member senior class, as well as the loss of significant gaming experience as a result of last season’s abrupt end. Dorsett, whose team showed growing pains in a 66-0 loss to Messalonskee in a preseason clash on Saturday, isn’t shying away from that challenge.
“We have a good group of kids who are very young, and a lot of them are new to soccer as well,” Dorsett said. “Right now, we’re just trying to teach them the basics, have fun, and make the best step forward. We know we’re a year or two away from making any serious noise, but you have to work to get past it.”
Brunswick has 30 players on its roster, a number that has grown since the mid-20s with the start of the school giving fall sports teams slight bumps everywhere. Still, that’s a notable decline from last year, when the Dragons began the season with a roster in the mid-40s.
Watson declined to comment when asked if last year’s hazing scandal resulted in a drop in participation.
However, he acknowledged Brunswick considered making a switch to eight-man football as concerns with the numbers grew. However, he said, they eventually felt comfortable that the numbers they had were enough for the Dragons to safely field a team in Class B this fall.
“Our numbers are a little lower, but we’re going to hold on to both our varsity and JV schedules,” Watson said. “For our college schedule, I don’t see a scenario where we don’t finish the season, and with our JV, we’re just going to play by ear in terms of number wear and if someone gets hurt. ”
With 20 freshmen and some decent-sized classes on the way to the middle school level, Watson said he, too, is comfortable with Brunswick’s prospects for years to come.
Players say they have received remarkable support from the community since the show’s return was confirmed in January.
“Brunswick is a great community, and you see that especially in football because there’s a lot of tradition here,” senior offensive lineman Gavin Barbour said. “We had a good turnout for being so far away in (Messalonskee). … Everyone is happy to see the Dragons back on the field.”
With last year’s losses, there isn’t much experience for Brunswick. At quarterback, the Dragons are led by Quinn McCaffrey, who started the team’s final game last year. The team also brings back Barbour on the offensive line and Parker Stanchfield at wide receiver.
“These kids are hungry and they want to play, and that’s half the battle,” said Dorsett, whose team opens the season Sept. 2 at Mt. Blue High in Farmington. “There is still a championship culture, and what we need to do now is build on that culture. That’s something that happens one practice at a time.”
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