CONWAY — Recent Kennett High graduates Dominic Jones and Justin Olson had been looking forward to one more high school football game in their fine careers, but it won’t happen. The talented athletes had hoped to suit up for the Granite State in the 67th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Game against Vermont, but the game has officially been canceled for this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Shrine's Board of Governors overwhelmingly voted June 12 to “shelve this year's gridiron classic due to health and safety concerns over coronavirus and the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic in the coming weeks.”
The game had been scheduled for Aug. 1 at Castleton University's Dave Wolk Stadium.
"Regretfully we had to cancel the game due to logistics reasons," said Kristi Morris, the Shrine's general chairman in a release, adding, "We are heartbroken."
The Shrine Board of Governors, according to the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Facebook page, met July 14 to discuss how to honor this year’s team.
“It was decided to host a gathering at Storrs Pond in Hanover (last Sunday). Each player will be allowed to bring two guests. Each player will be presented with their game jersey along with a program, T-shirt and jacket. Everyone will be required to wear a face mask and maintain social distancing.”
“They were honored today (game day), with most of the N.H. team, at a picnic in Hanover,” Marie Olson, Justin’s mom, posted on Facebook. “I’m so sad they didn’t get that last chance to play together. We did have an awesome, entertaining lunch after though!”
Dom and Justin were named to the Division 2 Northern Conference Football All-State squad last fall.
Dom, a running back, received First Team laurels, while Justin, a defensive back, earned All-State Second-Team honors.
“When I found out I would be representing New Hampshire in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl I was ecstatic,” Dom stated on the N.H. team page. “I feel fortunate to be playing one last football game with many talented players from the state and can't wait to take the field with them. It is an honor to be a part of this game and such a great cause and to be playing for my home state.”
In the fall Dom is scheduled to attend Southern New Hampshire University to study in construction management.
Justin plans to attend Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., in the fall.
Kennett went 7-3 last season to earn the No. 4 seed in the Division II playoffs, falling 49-21 victory to eventual champs, Hollis-Brookline, the No. 5 seeds at Gary Millen Stadium on Nov. 9.
In 2019, Kennett’s Sam Pollard and Cole Sweeney both played key roles in helping the Granite State to a 21-9 victory, ending Vermont's three-game win streak.
Sam was the kicker for the Granite State, going a perfect 3-3 on extra-point attempts. He also had a perfectly executed on-sides kick that New Hampshire recovered.
Cole was one busy Granite Stater. He started and played both ways for New Hampshire on the offensive and defensive lines in the first half before playing only offense in the second half.
“It was the best week of football Cole has ever had,” said Merle Sweeney, Cole’s dad, who attended the game. “I’m sure Sam would concur.”
“It was a phenomenal weekend,” Thom Pollard, Sam’s dad, who also went to the game, said. “Sam said it was a week he’ll never forget. He connected with so many of his teammates and coaches.”
The Granite State now holds an overall 48-17-1 edge in the series.
According to the Shrine website, "'Strong Legs Run That Weak Legs May Walk’ is the motto of every Shrine football game and it can be seen every summer as 72 young men from New Hampshire and Vermont play their hearts out for the benefit of the children in the Shrine hospitals. And, when they step off the field at game's end, they become alumni and as such never forget the children they played for."
The Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl has raised over $4.5 million dollars and countless spirits in its 66 years of providing unprecedented care to families and children in need.