BELMONT — The Friends of Belmont Football, a group of parents who joined together two years ago in an effort to find a way for their sons to be able to play football at the high school level, are stepping up to the plate in an effort to make that happen.
Boys from Belmont are able to play in the Gilford Youth Football league, as well as Laconia Youth Football, but are without a team when they reach high school.
''We're concentrating on it. We're out raising money so that we can fund our portion of the program in a cooperative football team,'' says Eric Shirley, who is the president of the non-profit organization which has been formed to support that effort.
He said that the group is in ''a full fundraising mode'' and is planning to sell Christmas trees at the Gates Farm on Rte. 106 and will hold 50-50 raffles and sell calendars. It has applied for a non-profit status with the IRS, a status which it hopes it will soon achieve.
Shirley said that donations are being sought from businesses and individuals and that one fundraiser is already underway at the Belmont Village Store, where proceeds from the sale of 99 cent breakfast sandwiches are being donated to the drive.
''There are a lot of young people already active in youth football programs in other communities and we feel an obligation to get them a place to play,'' says Shirley.
The group has met with the Shaker School Board, which has undertaken discussions with the Gilford School Board about a joint effort, and Shirley says that in order for that to be considered the Friends group will have to demonstrate that it is financially viable.
Shirley, who grew up in Lynn, Mass. and played football in college, credits the sport and his coaches for helping shape his character. Now, as a father and state trooper, he sees football as a positive outlet for boys, a way for them to expend the energy and aggression that marks teenage years. "That needs to be channeled in productive ways."
His son, Nate, 11, plays in the Gilford Youth Football League, one of about a half dozen Belmont students playing for Gilford's Snowbelt League team.
Shirley said his son loves football and wants to play able to play it alt the high school level. But that's years away and there's a more urgent matter for the group, finding a high school that will form a cooperative team with Belmont High School which will allow a number of talented eighth graders currently playing for the Gilford Silver Hawks to continue to play football.
''We want to find a way to make it happen by next year,'' says Mark Forgione, whose son Mark Jr. plays for the Silver Hawks.
Forgione says that for years the Gilford and Shaker school districts have fielded a cooperative Belmont-Gilford ice hockey team that plays out of the Laconia Ice Arena.
''That's our model and we'll work with any school district that will work with us to make it happen,'' says Forgione. ''We're pretty passionate about it and at this point we want to make more people aware of what we're hoping to achieve.''
Forgione's son, Mark, an eighth grader who is in his first year of playing football, says ''It's nothing like I've ever done before. It's a whole new experience and I don't want to see all the talent we have on this team to go to waste.''
Another who could find himself without a place to play next year is 14-year-old Brandon Scheffer, who last year played on Gilford's undefeated team which won the championship by a 48-0 score and which this year has a 7-1 record and will host Kearsarge Saturday morning at 9 in championship semifinal game.
Scheffer, a defensive end and an offensive tackle, says ''I don't really care where we go. I just really enjoy playing football and want to continue.''
Inter-Lakes High School in Meredith and Moultonborough Academy currently have the only cooperative high school football team in the Lakes Region.
Dillon Gansert, Tanner Wood, Nate Shirley, Brandon Scheffer and Mark Forgione, football players from Belmont, have been playing football in the Gilford but have no have no high school program to move into next year. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)