Joining Forces

For generations, if Gilbert and Housatonic were playing football it was sure to be a fierce rivalry game. Many remember legendary Turkey Bowl matches between the two schools. No matter how rough the season had been up to that point, a victory over Gilbert on Thanksgiving made for a winning year in Region One. 

Now when Gilbert and Housatonic take the field, it is not as rivals but as teammates. Since 2021 GNH football has put school allegiances aside to achieve a common goal: filling a roster.

Regional co-op teams are not new to the Northwest Corner. Northwestern High School (the “N” in GNH) first combined football teams with Gilbert in 2002, uniting players from Winsted, Barkhamsted, Colebrook, New Hartford, and Norfolk as Yellowjackets.

HVRHS football originally merged with Wamogo (Washington, Morris, and Goshen’s regional high school) in 2007, bringing students from nine Litchfield County towns together in Mountaineer uniforms. In 2018, Oliver Wolcott Tech was added the Housatonic/Wamogo co-op and further expanded the sprawl of towns that contributed to one team. 

A few years later, Nonnewaug requested to join the conglomeration and offered a brand-new athletic complex to host games and practices. Up to this point HVRHS had hosted all co-op activities. Traveling an hour to Woodbury for daily practices was not particularly appetizing for Region One players or parents. 

In 2021 Wamogo and Wolcott Tech (along with Litchfield and Shepaug Valley) went with Nonnewaug and HVRHS backed out of the original co-op. Unable to fill a team alone, Housatonic decided to open a dialogue with Gilbert. By the fall, Mountaineer football was rebranded to Yellowjacket football. A hard pill to swallow for some... until GNH took the field.

The newly formed co-op team became an undeniable success and finished the first two seasons with winning records and playoff berths. In 2022 star running back Freddie Camp scored 30 touchdowns — the most of any player in the state that year — and led the Yellowjackets to the Class SS state semifinals. Back-to-back triumphant seasons earned GNH a promotion to the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division (up from NVL Brass) for its third year. 

Camp graduated, along with 15 other GNH seniors, in 2023. Staring down a green roster and a tough schedule, the Yellowjackets appeared to be headed toward a rebuilding year.

The 2023 season got off to a predictably sluggish start with losses to powerhouse programs including Ansonia, Naugatuck, and Woodlawn. By late October, GNH sat with a 2-4 record. A hard-fought loss in Watertown on Oct. 20 proved to be a turning point. The cogs slid into gear. A group of kids from across the county became something more: a team. 

GNH went on to win the next five games, finishing the regular season with a record of 6-4 and qualifying for the state tournament for the third year in a row. The Yellowjackets advanced to the semifinals for the second consecutive year, where they met their match against Watertown once more.

This year, 11 HVRHS athletes suited up for GNH. Compare that to the 21 HVRHS players on the field with their Wamogo counterparts in 2015, and the last time the Mountaineers filled their own roster in 2006. 

Teaming up with longtime rivals may stretch the limits of school pride, but it’s hard to argue against the result of joining forces for the love of the game.

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