LACONIA — Long-time Laconia High School head football coach Jim Fitzgerald told a large crowd at a ceremony prior to last night's homecoming game that he was ''humbled and honored'' to have the school's new state-of-the-art football field named for him.
He thanked the Silver Sachems, a group of former Laconia High School football players who raised $100,000 to purchase the naming rights for the field at the Bank of New Hampshire Stadium for dedication to him.
''It was a great honor to have coached here for so many years,'' said Fitzgerald, who coached the Sachems from 1973 to 2001, a period in which they went to the playoffs 19 times, advanced to 12 state finals and won three state titles.
Fitzgerald said that he was also grateful to his wife, Jeannine, who was always the most vocal fan and staunchest supporter of his football teams.
Following his brief remarks Fitzgerald said ''that's the end of the show. Let's play ball,'' As he started walking off the field the current Laconia High School football team came onto the field and coaches and members of the team greeted him at midfield, where he shook hands with all team members.
The Silver Sachems were organized by Jeff Price, a 1983 LHS graduate who played quarterback; Dick Swett, a 1975 LHS graduate and former New Hampshire congressman who also was a quarterback, and Steve Gardner, a 1974 graduate who was the quarterback of the 1973 team which Fitzgerald took over after the head coach resigned after an 0-3 start.
Price, who introduced members of the Silver Sachems, said ''It's a great night to honor a great man'' and turned the microphone over to City Councilman Matt Lahey, a 1972 Laconia High School graduate who played a key role in fund raising efforts for the new athletic field and stadium,.
Lahey said that Fitzgerald had been ''a coach and mentor to hundreds of high school athletes,'' and that naming the field for him was a well-deserved honor.
Paul Phelps, who was an assistant coach for Laconia High School for many years, said that the dedication ceremony was ''awesome. He was a coach who was loved by his players and they stepped up for him when it came to naming the field.''
David Rae, former Laconia High School English teacher who was the public address announcer for LHS football for 32 years, said Fitzgerald is ''a remarkable guy who was a remarkable coach. He was a teacher too. He was able to teach the game to his players so that they understood how to play the game well. That's why his teams were so good for so many years.''