A planned celebration of the Marshwood High School football program at the inaugural Wasabi Fenway Bowl in Boston will not be held. The bowl game was canceled on Sunday due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases on the University of Virginia football team.
Virginia (6-6) was scheduled to play at Southern Methodist University (8-4) on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Fenway Park in what was billed as the first bowl game in New England.
According to the Washington Post, a handful of players started showing symptoms and tested positive the day before the charter flight from Virginia was scheduled to depart for Boston in Charlottesville over Christmas. The whole team passed tests on Saturday morning and sports department officials chose not to play when further results came back positive.
“Obviously we are disappointed,” said Marshwood football coach Alex Rotsko. “It would have been a lot of fun to go. I’m sure everyone was looking forward to it. It would have been a great day.
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All but one of Marshwood’s players were planning to attend the game, along with family members of former coach Rod Wotton, who died in November. The schedule was to be honored with a short announcement during the game, and the current team and coaches were invited to take to the pitch for post-game photos with the Wotton family.
“It’s a big loss for us,” said Rich Buzzell, athletic director for Marshwood. “Maybe we’ll have the chance to play in a bowl game next year as a reminder. But I don’t know.”
Marshwood Graduation Celebration
The celebration was designed by Mike Welts, a 1979 Marshwood graduate, Wasabi’s Marketing Director. A close friend of Marshwood assistant coach Dave Cultrera, Welts approached Cultrera and Marshwood in late October ahead of the playoffs with the idea of honoring the schedule.
“I really wanted to do something to recognize the community I grew up in and reward the football program for all they have achieved,” he said.
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The celebration plans turned out to be premonitory. The soccer team was 5-3 at the time and third in Class B South. They warmed up for the playoffs, going 4-0 to win their sixth Class B state title in seven years and their fourth in a row. On their way to the title, the Hawks avenged losses against two teams (Kennebunk and Portland), who had jostled them in regular season games. Particularly painful was Kennebunk’s loss. The Rams scored 21 unanswered points in the last four minutes to erase a 14-point deficit and stun Marshwood, 42-35.
“It kind of gave us extra motivation to win the state championship,” said senior quarterback Aidan Sullivan. The Hawks held their own in the final to beat the previously undefeated Windham 14-13.
Longtime grieving coach Rod Wotton
The day before Thanksgiving, Wotton passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 82. He coached the program in 17 crowns during his 27 years of racing from 1966 to 1992 and followed that up with an additional 15 years across the border in his hometown of New Hampshire in St. Thomas. Aquinas HS, guiding the saints to four other crowns of state. When Wotton retired in 2010 after 47 years as a coach, his 342 wins were the most important in all of New England among high school football coaches.
Suddenly, Fenway’s celebration took on something even more meaningful and emotional. “Marshwood has been like family to us,” said Peter Wotton, one of Rod’s three children. “It’s good that they thought they recognized my father. He liked the Red Sox and Fenway, so that’s pretty cool.
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Two eras of Marshwood football
Marshwood football had two distinct eras: the Wotton era and the Rotsko era.
Wotton built the program. He coached for five years at the old South Berwick High School in the early 1960s, and when Marshwood High School was built in 1966 he took over. He went on to become the state of Maine’s most successful football coach, winning state titles in all four divisions, the only coach to do so.
He won his first state title in 1966 in Class D and his last in 1989 in Class A. The Hawks did not win again until Rotsko arrived in 2012 after 29 years as a head coach. in Massachusetts (10 years at American International College and 19 years at Longmeadow High School). His Longmeadow teams have won 11 Super Bowl championships in Central / Western Mass and at one point have a 47-game winning streak.
Rotsko inherited a Marshwood program that ran for 2 to 6 three years in a row. In his freshman year, he guided the Hawks to the Class B State Finals, a savage 44-42 loss to Mt. Blue.
Two years later, in 2014, Marshwood won his first state title in 25 years since Wotton’s time. The Hawks whipped Brunswick, 44-18. They beat Brunkswick again in 2015, 21-14, and followed that with four straight games – there hasn’t been a 2020 season because of COVID – leading last November’s title against Windham, 14-13. Marshwood is 89-16 under Rotsko, who is 273-55 in high school.
“We’ve definitely had great success in our program,” said Buzzell, now in his 19th year with the Marshwood School District as vice-principal. “A lot of those things point to our coaches. But it is also our children and our community. Rod Wotton built the program and it got where it was nationally recognized.
He added: “Alex came over and did a great job bringing him back. … Our children work in line. Our community supports the program. There are a lot of pieces in the puzzle. “
Rotsko remembers coming to Marshwood for the first time as a coach. He was told there were two games they could win, two they had no chance of winning, and then four that the Hawks had to play well to be a viable team in the playoffs.
Rotsko remembers the scrum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and being eliminated 40-0. “I wasn’t used to it coming from Longmeadow,” he said. A few assistant coaches thought the team had done a great job, which alarmed Rotsko. “Holy cow, if it’s a great job, we’re in trouble,” he said. “Get me out of here. Take me back to Longmeadow.
The first two games were against York and Mountain Valley, the teams against which they reportedly had no chance. The Hawks ended up winning both, including York in Friday night’s opener, Rotsko’s first game as a head coach.
The next morning, he’s sitting in his York kitchen watching the game movie and breaking it down. “My wife said there’s someone at the door who wants to talk to you,” he recalls. “It was actually Rod Wotton. It turns out he lived just down the street from us. He walked over and knocked on the door. He said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if you you remember me (they met on a recruiting trip to Rotsko, Maine while they were at AIC in the 1980s) I just wanted to come and congratulate you on last night’s victory Which was really a classy thing to do.
Rotsko came and instituted what had been successful for him at Longmeadow. “I just took the same approach,” he said. “We are carrying out the same attack. Basically the offense we committed there in terms of practice and philosophy.
He remembers they didn’t have a quarterback. “So we took our fastest running back and put him in the quarterback,” Rotsko said. “There you go, you’re the quarterback. “
The Hawks were lucky under Rotsko to have very good quarterbacks, including Luc Blanchette, Tommy Springer, Connor Caverly and Aidan Sullivan. “We were pretty lucky as a quarterback,” Rotsko said.
Rotsko and Sullivan are fully aware of Wotton’s impact on the program. “What Rod Wotton and his teams have been doing goes back a long time,” said Rotsko. “It’s postponed. It is still with us today. Without a doubt.”
Rotsko coached sons of guys who played for Wotton, and some of his coaches played for Wotton as well. “It’s still there,” he said of the tradition. Marshwood is without a doubt a football school.
An example for Rotsko of the community’s commitment and dedication to football and its great tradition is the make-up of the recall club. Some of its officers stayed even after their own children graduated and moved on.
Rotsko didn’t have that level of commitment at Longmeadow, which is known for lacrosse. He found Marshwood refreshing in his support for football. “It’s always important,” he said. “People follow him. … Marshwood is more of a blue collar community. There are a lot of people in town who have played for Rod Wotton.
Aidan Sullivan’s dad, Tom Sullivan, dressed for Wotton in the early 1980s. “I’ve heard a lot of stories about (Wotton),” Aidan said. “He was just a great coach. He cared about the children. He did what was best for the kids. From the stories I have heard, I also see a lot of them at Coach Rotsko. They are very similar.