After last year’s triumphant and dominant win that brought the Island Cup back to Nantucket after the longest stretch of consecutive wins in the history of the island rivalry that spans more than half a century, Nantucket football players and fans alike were looking forward to the annual game. But on Wednesday night, barely two weeks before the game was scheduled to take place, Nantucket High School Athletic Director Chris Maury announced he had been informed by the Martha’s Vineyard Athletic Director that due to a string of injuries and disciplinary problems that had depleted the Vineyard football roster, the 2017 Island Cup would be forfeited to Nantucket.
The news was announced in the Vineyard Gazette the following morning, which confirmed that the Vineyarders’ last game would be against Greater New Bedford, their 1-7 record reflecting the struggle they’ve had in terms of players all season, with the only win coming “via forfeit against Atlantis Charter, a first-year program.”
Multiple injuries had reduced the number of players able to compete to 14 (mostly underclassmen), and the team also dealt with suspended players earlier in their season following an incident that remains undisclosed, but reported in the MV Times that at least one person “was charged criminally for furnishing alcohol to minors,” and followed that “a juvenile was also taken to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.”
Notably, a similar decision was made by Nantucket in 2009 as explained by Maury that the Nantucket football program in 2008 “had gone 0-10 and finished with 18 players, and had taken a sound beating in the past 5 times we had played Martha’s Vineyard.”
“It was felt that we needed to try and take a year to rebuild our program,” continued Maury.
A notable difference between the 2009 cancellation and present forfeit is the timing of the announcement. The decision was made in August by Nantucket in 2009, but the short notice given for this year’s Island Cup has presented significant logical complications for all involved.
Beau Almodobar, who was the assistant coach for the Nantucket football team in 2009, recalled the decision and the disappointment he felt that reflects the current state of the let down fans and players right now. “When I first heard we weren’t playing the Vineyard that year I thought to myself, ‘now that’s a good joke,’” said Almodobar. “But then one of the coaches said no, I’m serious, we’re not playing the Vineyard. I felt confused and sorry for all those seniors, who for their whole lives wanted to play in that big game and couldn’t. It’s one of the best high school football rivalries in the state, if not the best! It’s tough to take, but it’s understandable.”
Those seniors Almodobar described in 2009 could empathize with those of the class of 2018, who share their dismay.
Senior Captain Mark Hamilton reflected on this sentiment, saying, “I’m disappointed, because it’s my senior year. I expected to go out on a home island cup game win. I’m disappointed at the thought that my senior teammates can’t go out as we wanted to.”
Fellow Captain Chris Ancero-Allen shared Hamilton’s view, commenting that to him, “it’s a big disappointment to see how the Vineyard can turn down a tradition that’s been passed on for many generations.”
If anything, the strong emotions shared upon the sudden news serve to underscore the strength and powerful motivation that the historic rivalry amongst the schools has created. Senior Katherine Pittman took a more optimistic approach, acknowledging that although she had been truly looking forward to a home football game against the Vineyard her final year in high school, “we cannot control what the other team decides to do… but hopefully we will be given the opportunity to bring back powderpuff this year and have fun,” turning her attention to other activities that reflect school spirit, mentioning the recent efforts made by student council to resurrect the Powderpuff Game.
Junior Alexa Aloisi, President of the class of 2019, spoke to one such complication of the cancellation: “every year the Island Cup is a huge fundraising event for the junior class to fund junior prom in the spring, and finding out that the cup this year had been forfeited definitely proved challenging in that effort. As a class we had already begun selling apparel before we knew that the Vineyard forfeited, so when we heard the cup was canceled we were completely out of sorts.”
The sweatshirts and t-shirts the junior class was selling will now instead bear a design and slogan making light of the situation, Aloisi continued, but noted that it has been a hassle nonetheless to inform everyone of the design change, and, further, “persuade them not to cancel their order.”
Although the celebration of Nantucket’s long-awaited victory last year was enjoyed by many, other students reflected a different opinion concerning the value NHS places on its football team.
“I don’t see why football is such a unifying community event,” remarked junior Matthew Nesselrodt, a member of the recently-crowned champion Cross Country team. “I don’t understand why we don’t put as much stock into more important things.”
The Island Cup will be held on Nantucket next year, and Maury is confident by then the Vineyard will have recovered their team to fighting strength. At its worst, the forfeit this year is a disappointment and a hassle, but at its best it’s a lesson in facing adversity and relinquishing worry over things that cannot be controlled, as well as an opportunity to redirect school spirit and attention to other things.
“One of the things we try to teach the athletes is how to deal with adversity,” Maury reiterated. “You learn in life that you work on and deal with only the things that you can control. I think with regards to Martha’s Vineyard, we have a relationship that has been a long-standing rivalry, for the most part a good rivalry. I trust that they’ve made a decision that they feel is in the best interest of their football program and their student athletes, it’s difficult and although it’s disappointing I think it’s something that we need to respect, deal with, and move forward with.”