LYNN — The list of challenges that come with a starting a brand new football program is undoubtedly a lengthy one. That was part of the journey last fall when Lynn’s KIPP Academy underwent its inaugural season on the gridiron.
Growing pains were part of the process as KIPP started the season 1-7 through its first eight contests. Showing no quit, and plenty of improvement, the Panthers finished 2-1 in their final three games last fall with victories over South Boston and Burke.
They return this year with plenty of optimism for the new season and excitement about a new Thanksgiving rivalry against crosstown rival Tech.
KIPP traveled to Milford last year for the program’s first Thanksgiving game, an agreement that was on a yearly basis. Tech, which has played Austin Prep in its Thanksgiving game in recent years, saw its agreement with the Cougars expire. That created an opening for a Thanksgiving game on each team’s schedule, and the details came together quickly between the two.
“We found out Tech’s contract with Austin Prep was expiring,” KIPP coach Jim Rabbitt said. “Our contract with Milford was on a yearly basis. We have an inter-city rivalry with Tech and we’re both in the CAC. We’re moving buildings so we’ll be across the street from Tech, so it’ll be an ‘across the street’ rivalry too. It’s pretty cool.”
KIPP and Tech, both in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference, played one another last season at Manning Field with the Tigers grabbing the victory. This year’s game will take place on Wednesday, November 21 at Manning with a time to be announced.
Rabbitt said his players showed no shortage of excitement when KIPP’s coaching staff broke the news about the new Thanksgiving rivalry.
“When we told them and broke the news they were all excited about it,” Rabbitt said. “They were probably more excited than we (coaches) were. They’re starting to understand how special it is. They have a rivalry against kids in the city they grew up with. They saw what a packed house on Thanksgiving is like when we went to Milford. Now we’ll be in Lynn every year. Hopefully parents and alumni can come down and the kids can get the full atmosphere of Thanksgiving football.”
Tech coach James Runner said his players were also excited.
“My kids were all excited for it,” Runner said. “Traveling to Reading to play Austin Prep wasn’t all that fun because we had a game that our fans didn’t really go to. Having a Thanksgiving game in Lynn, it brings back some tradition to the city. KIPP’s football team blossomed last year so I’m sure they’re looking to do more things.”
Runner added that closing the season with a conference game adds another element of intensity to the new Thanksgiving rivalry.
“It’s a conference game,” Runner said. “It could have an impact on the CAC championship. It’s more than a Thanksgiving game. As long as me and coach Rabbitt both do our jobs, who knows what can happen in that game. I look forward to seeing what happens and how it all plays out. We won our first conference championship outright last year.”
With a new season quickly approaching, the Panthers have done their part in gearing up for their second year of action on the gridiron. They took part in the Northeast 7v7 Tournament at St. John’s Prep last month, where they played four games against top-notch teams like Classical and Bishop Fenwick.
The team’s also holding group workouts three times a week at Lynn Fitness Center on Eastern Avenue.
“We took some of our guys to a lifting and conditioning program,” Rabbitt said. “It’s our first real offseason. We have a core group of kids that are dedicated to getting better. We competed in the Northeast 7v7. We didn’t get the results we wanted but we competed in all four games. The leaders, captains and also our sophomore class have all been phenomenal.”
Tech has also taken part in 7v7 tournaments and Runner likes his team’s direction heading into the new season.
“We’re rebuilding from a great year,” Runner said. “We have some good parts in the right places. It’s going to be on us as a coaching staff to make the right decisions. I think we’ll be ready to ball. We had a lot of 7v7 work this year.”