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With Olympics on horizon, Concord High ski jumping team looks to spark interest

  • Concord coach Rick Bragg talks about his team at Hanover’€™s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord’s Cam Brochu on his second jump at the Hanover’s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord’s Eben Bragg sticks his landing on his second jump at the school meet at Hanover’s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. Bragg came in 20th in the competition. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High’€™s Eben Bragg takes off on his first jump at the ski jumping meet at Hanover’s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • ABOVE: A skier warms up with a practice jump at Hanover’s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. BELOW: Skis are lined up before the jumping competition at Hanover’€™s Storrs Pond Recreation Area. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Skis are lined up before the jumping competition at Hanover’€™s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Ski jumpers from around the region join in making a video sendoff for Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson at the Hanover’€™s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord’€™s Eben Bragg keeps warm near the fire at Hanover’€™s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord High’sEben Bragg on his first jump at Hanover’€™s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. Bragg came in 20th with jumpers from around the region including Hanover and Plymouth. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Eben Bragg put it simply when he was asked what kind of mindset is necessary for a ski jumper.

“Just gotta send it,” the Concord High freshman said.

It will be one of the most daring sports on television when the Olympic Winter Games begin later this week in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The world’s greatest jumpers will scream down the track at upward of 50 mph, lunge off the ramp and gracefully glide hundreds of feet through the air toward the landing area.

Or something less graceful may happen. But don’t think about that.

Whether it’s a world-class jumper or a New Hampshire teenager competing for his high school, the mentality stays the same.

You’ve just gotta send it.

“That’s our motto here,” said Bragg, whose father Rick coaches the Crimson Tide. “You can’t think about it. You’ve just got to do it.”

Elijah Czysz, a senior, said the worst thing that can happen is reaching the top of the stairs only to be told to wait while the snow is raked for grip or some other adjustment is being made below.

“You have a long time to contemplate your fate,” he said.

Only here

More than 70 skiers competed at Hanover’s Storrs Pond Recreation Area last week. The Concord squad isn’t very big – only five skiers compete – but the simple fact that they have the chance to compete is unique in itself.

New Hampshire is the only state that continues to support ski jumping as a high school sport.

The NHIAA has sanctioned ski jumping since the early 1950s. Concord has consistently fielded a team going back to at least the 1960s, according to John Fulton, who coached the Tide for 25 years before Bragg took over seven years ago.

Maine and Vermont used to sanction high school ski jumping, but New Hampshire stands alone these days.

That goes for the college level as well. The NCAA dropped ski jumping in 1980, eliminating the natural progression for a high school skier to continue jumping at the next level. That is left to local clubs now, while the very best might get a chance to train at Lake Placid, “the big hub of ski jumping” as Rick Bragg described it.

Fulton, who competed in ski jumping as a high school student in Hanover and later at the University of New Hampshire, was coaching UNH’s team in 1980 when the NCAA’s decision came down.

“And then, one by one, states all across the country dropped their high school programs to the point where now, for the last 30 years, New Hampshire has been the only one with high school ski jumping,” he said.

The turnout at Hanover last week, despite the hard and icy conditions due to sub-freezing temperatures, makes Fulton optimistic that the sport remains healthy in the Granite State.

“I think it’s still going well,” he said. “Each school has had its ups and downs, but the total number stays pretty even.”

Trying to grow

As Bragg has battled with low turnout for the team, Fulton has continued to support the coach’s effort.

“He told me not to get discouraged,” Bragg said. “You’ve got to promote the sport, talk about it.”

That’s exactly what Bragg intends to do with the Winter Olympic Games approaching and ski jumping making its quadrennial return to the consciousness of the common sports viewer.

The team could use some fundraising – it doesn’t have much in terms of equipment besides some outdated suits, old skis and a roller jump used in training. More importantly, Bragg said he aims to use the Olympics as an opportunity to draw attention to the team and attract some new skiers to program.

With more numbers, the team could become more competitive and maybe get enough support for some new skis and boots.

Bragg admitted that it can be a tough sport to sell. At a time when more and more high school athletes are focused on one sport year-round, finding teenagers who want to try something new can be difficult.

Plus, there’s the mental aspect.

“I’m looking for kids who might be snowboarders or Alpine skiers or mountain bikers that like to jump,” he said. “Kids I know that are a little fearless. They won’t think too much or overthink things. They’re not afraid of the air.”

‘It’s got to be fun’

Because the mental element is so critical, Fulton said it’s equally important that high school students compete in a relaxed environment.

The fearlessness is “just part of the progression,” Fulton said.

“It’s not a sport for everybody and you find that out. When I was a coach, I encouraged kids but did not push kids. It’s got to be fun,” he said. “If it’s not fun, then it’s not worth doing.”

That is a philosophy that has continued at Concord High. Alora Bergethon and Maddie Pratt, two former skiers now spending the season as team managers, described themselves as the “optimism crew.”

While the team is working toward growing its membership, the skiers are enjoying the close-knit feel the team has now.

“Tide jump is about respect,” said Czysz, the senior on the team. “It’s very familial.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)