By Mark Jaffee
Special to The Observer
Big changes are upon us in terms of the Connecticut High School All-Star football games.
The Hall of Fame Classic, set for June 29 at Rentschler Field, will feature 110 of the state’s best players, by position, and eventually divided into two teams by a draft in April, which will also take place at Rentschler.
No longer will there be the Governor’s Cup, featuring Connecticut’s elite players against Rhode Island, which had lasted 14 years. Also gone is the All-Star game between New Haven County and Fairfield County, which went by the Hall of Fame Classic and was sponsored by the National Football Foundation.
Rhode Island’s involvement in the Governor’s Cup has diminished in recent years and its organizers couldn’t sustain it any longer.
Connecticut officials looked at various alternatives, including matching up with New York or even western Massachusetts. But the end result turned out to be a joint partnership with Bill O’Brien, the co-founder of the previous Hall of Fame Classic.
Four decades ago, there was an East-West game called the Nutmeg Bowl at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport. When the Nutmeg State Games were introduced in the late 1980s, a football game was also included. That game was replaced by two All-Star games in the mid-1990s.
At an informal news conference at Southington High Friday, the details of the new format were mapped out.
“This option, we felt was the right time,” said Steve Filippone, Hand-Madison coach and football representative of the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA). “We are able to involve more Connecticut kids. Not that we needed a shot in the arm, but the draft (system) will give us a shot in the arm.”
“Our (expanded) playoff system (32 teams) has caught on and the FCIAC pairing with the SCC, and the SWC and Naugatuck Valley League agreeing to play each other during the regular season has helped keep our sport growing,” added Filippone. “This will help keep the interest high, too. This is one of the pieces of the process.”
O’Brien made the suggestion that the name of the game be called the Hall of Fame Classic.
“We really think that this is a positive thing,” said O’Brien. “Connecticut football has improved dramatically since we both started our All-Star games.”
All of the major sponsors with the county all-star games will be remain, according to O’Brien.
There will be two, three-hour combines taking place at the New Haven Athletic Center on March 24. The draft will be held in April. A maximum of four players can be taken from each school although a fifth could be added by each of the head coaches from their own teams.
The head coaches and staffs will be selected on Jan. 12 at the Walter Camp Foundation Breakfast of Champions. Each team will have 10 assistant coaches, but of that list, seven must be head coaches of their teams.
“We want to have the most experienced coaches out there,” said John Fontana, the CHSCA executive director. “With the new format, there was a lot of give and take.”
The selected players will be housed nightly at the military base at Camp Niantic for a weeklong practice, beginning June 23.
That week in June, there will be a golf tournament, a coaches clinic at Wesleyan University and a youth football clinic at Rentschler Field the day of the game. Kickoff on June 29 is set for 4:30 p.m.