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BHS Football Banquet Focuses on Championship Season

Jun 28, 2021 06:00AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey

Bellingham High football coach Dan Haddad is flanked by his co-MVPs— quarterback Gavin Elder (left) and wide receiver/cornerback Chris Domercant. (Photo submitted by LeighAnne Pendlebury)

by KEN HAMWEY, Contributing Writer

The sun was shining brightly, the sky was clear blue and it was hot. These outdoor elements were symbolic for Bellingham High’s football banquet at Savini’s Restaurant on May 23 in Blackstone, where coaches, players, parents and friends gathered to celebrate a significant gridiron season.

The weather mirrored how the 2020 Blackhawks had competed in 2021—they had shone brightly all season long; their horizons had had no limit; and their offense, defense and special-teams play had sizzled.

The squad was special, finishing undefeated at 5-0. The Blackhawks also ended their season as Tri Valley League Small Division champions. Those accolades made this banquet very different from those of the last two decades because the team ended 13 years of losing records and 20 years without a TVL crown. The last winning football season for Bellingham was in 2007, and the last time the school celebrated a league title was in 2001.

Dan Haddad, whose first five years as head coach ended with losing records, was all smiles as he proudly talked about his team. “Because of COVID-19, all we heard was what we couldn’t do,” he said. “We were told we couldn’t use the fields; we couldn’t use the weight room; we couldn’t have pasta dinners; and we couldn’t win a title. Well, our players treated COVID-19 just the way they treated our opponents—they dominated.”

Haddad, whose squad featured nine TVL all-stars, said before the banquet, “We won’t be celebrating ‘almost’; we’ll be celebrating what we set out to achieve,” he emphasized. “Our players were on a journey, and now we’re honoring them for their commitment and hard work that led to a major accomplishment. They did the little things that resulted in winning, and it’s nice to bring winning football back to Bellingham.”

Thirteen varsity awards were handed out at the banquet, including the team MVP trophy that went to quarterback Gavin Elder and receiver/defensive back Chris Domercant. Haddad had earned an award three weeks before the banquet; he was selected as the TVL’s Small Division coach of the year.

“It’s the players who got us to the top, but the coaching award is for all of the staff, not just me,” he noted. “It’s nice to get the recognition, but that’s not the focal point. What we focus on is our players’ success.”

That success was front and center as trophies were presented to a deserving group of offensive and defensive stalwarts.

Elder and Domercant, the co-MVPs, captured the primary prize. “Any honors and awards I’ve earned are because of dedicated coaches and teammates,” Elder noted. “It’s an honor to share the award.” Domercant, who also received the Defensive Back of the Year Award, also gave credit to his coaches. “A combination of hard work and determination helped me to overcome some adversity,” he said. “It’s the coaches who worked to mold me.”

Other awards went to running back Blake Simpson (Offensive Player of the Year); linebacker Brady Feola (Defensive Player of the Year); receiver Tyler Warren (Offensive Back/Receiver of the Year); tackle David Roy (Defensive Lineman of the Year); receiver/linebacker Andrew Cochrane (Special Teams Player of the Year); tackle Andrew Keeler (Unsung Hero); linebacker Tom Hammann (Blackhawk Award); guard Mark Imparato (Coaches’ Award); guard/tackle Nate Ireland (Most Improved); and center Jordan LaValley (Offensive Lineman of the Year and Pancake Award for blocking).

Here’s what the award recipients said: Simpson—“I’m honored, but the credit goes to my coaches and my linemen.”  Warren—”I’m proud of my achievements and thankful for great teammates. This chapter of my career has ended, and I look forward to the next chapter in college.”  Feola—“My award is a result of dedication and a tribute to our players pushing me to excel.”  LaValley—“Lots of hard work enabled me to win two awards. I’m honored, but every one of my teammates could have won these awards.”

Roy—“I’m proud of my achievement, but I got great support from my teammates.” Ireland—I won the Most Improved Award as a freshman, and now I’ve done it again as a senior.” Imparato—“I’m honored. It shows that the coaches saw my dedication and leadership.” Hammann—“It means a lot to win the Blackhawk Award. It goes to someone who has lots of energy, and I tried to personify that quality.” Keeler—”It’s an honor to be recognized, and I’m glad I could help my team.” Cochrane—“Special Teams players are underrated, but this award was a good way to contribute to our success.”

Freshmen awards went to Jack Davidson (Lineman of the Year), Mason Jacques (Offensive Player of the Year), and Gabe Egan (Defensive Player of the Year). Junior varsity awards went to Isiah Tobin (Lineman of the Year), Dasha Domercant (Offensive Player of the Year), and Connor Kelley (Defensive Player of the Year).

Next year’s captains were announced; they will be Elder, Imparato, guard/tackle Ethan Silva and cornerback Mike Spera.

Haddad’s two sons—Chris and Dan Jr.—played key roles for the Blackhawks. Chris, the defensive coordinator, and Dan Jr., the offensive coordinator, effectively changed some of BHS’s schemes. And they got results, especially on defense, where BHS yielded only 34 points.

“The players worked hard and paid the price in practice,” Chris said. “They fulfilled their roles, got to the ball quickly and displayed lots of desire and discipline. They did their jobs. Dan Jr. deserves some credit for our defense’s giving up only 34 points. He made our job easier when his offense scored so often (185 points in five games). When our offense scored, that put stress on our opponents’ offense. When that happened, our defense was able to play with little pressure.”

Dan Jr. was very young when BHS won the Super Bowl in 2001, but he knows how strong that team was. “They were hard-nosed and physical,” he said. “They were a run-oriented offense that relied on a wing-T formation. This team was more even keel, passing and running at a 50-50 rate. We could go to a variety of weapons, like Blake Simpson running or Tyler Warren and Chris Domercant catching passes from Gavin Elder. We could be physical, but we could also rely on finesse.”

Dan Jr. enjoyed the atmosphere of this year’s banquet. He could sense team chemistry playing a role in each individual award that was presented. “When we weren’t winning, our banquets were about individual honors,” he said. “This year, our award recipients all understood the value of team chemistry. Our seniors deserve recognition for all the work they did.”

Chris, who played on the BHS squad that finished 9-2 in 2007, was the MVP of that banquet. “That was a joyous time, and today’s banquet is similar,” he noted. “It’s great to celebrate a winning team again. Let’s not forget that our seniors did a year of work for only a five-game season. They deserve this time to celebrate their accomplishments.”

When the banquet concluded and all those attending began their brief journey back to Bellingham, delight, joy and satisfaction filled the air; but there also was a nagging question about this team that was often heard when the Blackhawks ended their season as unbeaten champions in April: if there had been no pandemic, would the Fall 2 football players at BHS have been good enough to finish their careers competing in a Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium?
Here’s how Dan Haddad Sr. framed the issue: “Our players shouldn’t be sad that our season has ended; they should be happy it happened. There’s no doubt that if this were a normal year and our team had been healthy for the playoffs, we would have been playing for a Super Bowl title.”

The question will always persist and linger when this team is discussed. Whether it would have gone to Gillette Stadium for a Super Bowl clash will never be known. What is definite, though, is the squad’s legacy—it brought championship football back to Bellingham.

Nine members of Bellingham High’s championship football team will be on the gridiron at the college level. They include (above L-R) Andrew Keeler (Castleton State), Jordan LaValley (University of New England), Brady Feola (University of New England), Andrew Cochrane (Salve Regina), David Roy (Worcester State), Chris Domercant (Stonehill), Blake Simpson (Westfield State), Tyler Warren (University of New Haven) and Anthony Galindo (Endicott College). (Photo submitted by Francesca Feola)