For 14 years, the best high school senior football players in Rhode Island have hopped on a bus and traveled to Connecticut to take on their counterparts from the next state over.
This year, the drive won’t be quite as long for the Ocean State’s annual all-star game.
The Governor’s Cup, the name of the game played between the two states, has been discontinued for now, with Connecticut opting out of the game and Rhode Island filling the void with an intra-state game featuring teams comprised of players from the eastern and western sides of the states.
The game will offer the opportunity for twice as many Rhode Island players to compete in a summer all-star game – with two teams instead of one – and it will be played at the Bryant University football field, Bulldog Stadium. The past few years, the Governor’s Cup had taken place at the University of Connecticut’s Rentschler Field.
The game will also have a different name this year, as it is simply called the Rhode Island All-Star Game. It’s scheduled for Saturday, June 29.
“Playing in Rhode Island, we can double the players,” said Mike Green, the Bishop Hendricken defensive coordinator who is serving as the head coach of the East team for the All-Star game. “We don’t have to turn anyone away. The other piece to that is that it’s a little less expensive to the kids. They do have to come up with some money, and if they can sell enough tickets it doesn’t cost them anything.”
Cranston East head coach Tom Centore is running the West squad. The dividing line for the teams is Route 95, which splits the state roughly down the middle.
The East gets teams like Hendricken, Barrington, Portsmouth, East Greenwich, Cumberland and others, while the West gets the two Cranston teams, La Salle and the majority of the Providence schools, to go along with many more.
The hope is that the geographical line also serves as a solid competitive divider. In years past – prior to the creation of the Governor’s Cup – a similar all-star game was annually played, and two sides matched up well with one another.
“They love playing football,” Green said. “We get kind of a tough knock on football in Rhode Island. But we have some kids who are really tremendous football players and are really excited to play in this game.”
Prior to this year, Rhode Island had endured a tough run against Connecticut, losing the last 10 meetings and falling in 11 of the 14 total games.
Yet, that wasn’t a huge factor in the discontinuation of the game, as Rhode Island was on the verge of winning last season before a late goal line stand by Connecticut ended the hopes of an upset.
Green believes that this year’s senior class in Rhode Island is among the strongest ever and could have given Connecticut another close game. But at the end of the day, finances were a deciding factor in shutting down the Cup, as the stadium, the jerseys, the transportation and other expenses reached a point where it wasn’t necessarily profitable to keep it going.
“Competitiveness against Connecticut, it was fine,” Green said. “I thought this year, the class of 2013 was as strong football-wise as any year we’ve ever had. We have some terrific players. The kids from La Salle and the kids from Hendricken and some of the other places. Maybe Connecticut knew that. The last two years we were getting closer to beat them, they didn’t want to get beat.”
As it is, the potential is there for it still to be an exciting event. There are twice the Rhode Island seniors who get to play in one final football game at the high school level, and that’s the idea of the game in the first place. In the past, the coaches had to make cuts and turn many kids away, because of the limited roster space.
Even though it’s not against Connecticut, it should still be solid football, with Rhode Island’s best on full display.
“They aren’t playing Connecticut, and there isn’t that big motivating factor of trying to beat them,” Green said. “But they’re athletes, they’re competitive. I’m sure with the coaching staff and their competitive nature, we’ll be able to light a fire.”
The East team was scheduled to start practice on Monday.
It will be the beginning of a 12-day sprint to get ready for the brand new Rhode Island All-Star game.
“I had a great bond with the kids on last year’s team,” Green said. “I’m looking forward to hopefully building that same bond this year.”