The weekend before Thanksgiving will be noticeably less festive on the Vineyard this year as school officials this week confirmed that the storied Island Cup football game with inter-Island rival Nantucket has been cancelled for the first time in almost 50 years.
Sandy Mincone, the new athletic director for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, told the Gazette this week that Nantucket pulled out of the long-standing tradition due to financial reasons.
Although the Vineyard was set to play the game as usual this year, and even had the game on their schedule until recently, Nantucket was having a hard time coming up with the money needed to charter a ferry from the Steamship Authority on the day of the game, she said.
Two years ago Nantucket spent $11,500 to charter a ferry to the Vineyard, and last year the Vineyard spent about $9,500. The game was scheduled to take place on the Vineyard this year, and reportedly would have cost Nantucket between $12,000 and $15,000 to charter a boat.
Ms. Mincone said previous Vineyard athletic director Mike Joyce talked with Nantucket athletic director Chris Maury several times earlier this summer, and learned that school officials over there were having a hard time coming up with the travel money for the football team and the other sports teams that travel to the Vineyard annually for games.
The two Islands annually play each other in football, soccer, field hockey, basketball and lacrosse.
At one point there was talk about playing the Island Cup game at a neutral site, such as Falmouth or Barnstable, that might cut down on travel costs. But the idea never took hold, at least not on the Vineyard, Ms. Mincone said.
Then last month officials here learned that Nantucket had already dropped the Vineyard from their schedule. Ms. Mincone said Vineyard officials tried to contact school and athletic officials on Nantucket, but their e-mails and phone messages went unanswered.
This week, Vineyard coaches and school officials collectively decided it was time to move on.
All the games with Nantucket on the fall sports schedule have been cancelled, including soccer, field hockey and the Island Cup football game. A decision will be made later about whether to schedule games with Nantucket during the winter and spring sports seasons.
Vineyard head football coach Donald Herman has already replaced Nantucket on the schedule with a game against Brighton High School.
“It’s officially off. Even if [Nantucket] finds the money and wants to play . . . it’s too late now. We understand they are having financial problems, but we can’t wait any longer. We need to move forward and finish our [athletic] schedule. It got to the point where it wasn’t fair for everyone involved,” he said.
Coach Herman said he was hurt and upset about the Island Cup game.
“Some of the words that come to mind you can’t publish in the paper,” he said. “Disappointed would be a great understatement.”
The storied Vineyard coach said he feels bad for his players.
“The real tragedy is the kids, especially the seniors. I just met with the team, and when I told the seniors there would be no Nantucket game, their heads just dropped. You grow up hearing about this game, and as a player you wait for years to suit up and take the field against Nantucket,” he said.
He also said he was disappointed with how Nantucket officials handled the situation. He first heard Nantucket was planning to drop the game when he got a call from someone with the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Nantucket, who asked him where the junior high football game between the two Islands would be held this year now that the Island Cup game had been cancelled.
“I thought it was a mistake at first. I couldn’t believe it. Apparently everyone over there knew what was going on, but it was all news to me,” he said.
Although the annual tradition has remained popular, it has lost some of its luster in recent years.
The two teams no longer play in the same conference, and the two programs have gone in markedly different directions. Where once the Whalers dominated the Island Cup, the Vineyard, under the apt tutelage of Coach Herman, has won the cup the last six years in a row and nine out of the past 10 years.
The rivalry also took a blow when Nantucket coach Vito Capizzo announced his retirement after 45 years.
Ms. Mincone said officials are taking things one year at a time, and hope to bring the game back next season.
“I am willing to revisit this, and I think we have to revisit this. This game has been around for 50 years, we can’t just throw that away. It’s a part of living on the Vineyard. All these great characters play in the game each year, and they tell the stories their whole life. Where will the stories come from now?” she said.
Coach Herman agreed.
“I never would have imagined a year when the Vineyard and Nantucket didn’t play in a football game,” he said. “Maybe if we were in the middle of a war or something, but even then it would be a big loss.”