From 2009 to 2011, in the court of high school sports debate, the Warwick Vets football team was Exhibit A. Winless in 2009. Winless in 2010. Two wins last year. Athletic teams across the city were struggling, and the ’Canes were the poster boys.
On Friday night, they officially pushed themselves out of that storyline. They weren’t a statistic. They weren’t evidence. They weren’t part of a theory on why Warwick sports have hit the skids.
They were a football team – a good one.
The ’Canes beat Westerly. It was a rainy night and the crowd wasn’t too big, but the win was enormous. Vets is now 3-2 in league play and in the thick of a playoff race for the first time in years.
On the sidelines, I was captivated.
The day before, I’d been talking with a coach about the plight of Warwick’s boys’ soccer teams. It’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say, there’s a serious lack of numbers. It’s another exhibit, another piece of evidence.
It’s easy in those conversations to fall into a trap. The big picture is important. Warwick’s struggles are real and should be talked about. But you can get too caught up in the big picture. You see the forest and not the trees.
The Vets football team reminded me of that. For them and for athletes around the city, the struggle has not been a fact to lament. It’s been reality. In the face of that, the Hurricanes worked. They built. They believed.
Forget theories and statistics. Forget poster boys.
The Hurricanes are the story.
When the current seniors came into the program, Vets was coming off a run of three straight winning seasons. Quarterback Bob Bentsen, one of the best players in school history, had just graduated, but there was plenty of momentum.
There was a foundation.
And then it crumbled.
In retrospect, it was probably just a very tough cycle in a cyclical sport, but it felt like more. The ’Canes fell off the map, and it was reasonable to wonder how they’d ever find their way back.
But there were the kids in the program then who believed. There were kids coming in who believed. Now they’re on center stage, and they’ve got everybody believing.
“It’s been a process,” said coach Bryan Nappa. “They built a good foundation last year. They kind of set a tone for what they wanted to accomplish in the coming years.”
Their attitude is tangible. A dozen times in the game against Westerly, I thought Vets would fade. Every time, the ’Canes did the opposite.
They’ve built something and they aren’t about to let it fall.
Bryan Nappa is the son of longtime head coach Mike Nappa, who’s been out all year because of a health issue. Bryan has been part of Vets football his entire life.
He has never seen a team like this.
“I’ve been around this program, pretty much since I was born, and as far as a cohesive unit, this is probably the best example of a team that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “They’re there for each other – family adversity, in the classroom, after school. They’re always helping each other out. Their life revolves around each other right now, and it’s fantastic to see.”
Where it takes the ’Canes remains to be seen. They have a tough game against undefeated Johnston this week. If they don’t win there, they’ll have to beat Mt. Hope in their season finale just to be in the playoff conversation. Some scenarios have them in the playoffs. Some have them out.
But playoffs shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all for these ’Canes. Whatever happens, they’ve already done something special.
They’re a football team.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.