HERE’S a feel-good sports story that involves former Manchester Central football player Raheen Dukes:

Dukes, 19, fancied himself as the next LeBron James when he was a freshman at Central. That’s when Central football coach Ryan Ray spotted Dukes in the school’s weight room.

Football wasn’t on Dukes’ radar back then. In fact, he had never played organized football until Ray coaxed him into joining the team as a sophomore. His role for Central increased significantly as a junior, and he was a starter at defensive end and a defensive captain as a senior. Dukes was selected to play in the 2020 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, but that all-star football game was cancelled because of COVID-19.

“The first thing he (Ray) said to me was, ‘Why aren’t you playing football?’” Dukes recalled. “In my head, football players play just to get hurt because all they do is hit each other.

“Once I ended up joining the team it felt like more of a family environment. At first it was very stressful because I had no football knowledge or anything like that. I didn’t watch the sport. At first it was like I was there to get embarrassed at some points, but there were guys who would take me under their wing and show me ways to do certain things. We connected in other ways besides football. We’d hang out, work out — things like that — on our own time. I started to feel part of something. It gave me a sense of belonging and a certain pride. Playing a sport was more of like having a family.”

Although things were improving for Dukes on the football field, they weren’t getting any better at home. He didn’t see eye to eye with many members of his real family. At one point during his senior year he left his home and moved in with a friend.

Dukes said too many of his relatives were making bad choices.

“Your family is the family you got,” Ray said. “Football is the family you choose. Somebody wiser than me once said, ‘This kid needs football more than football needs this kid.’ I really believe that in a lot of these kids.”

Once his senior season at Central was over, however, Dukes said he felt a void in his life — a void he wanted to fill. He found what he was looking for in the U.S. Marine Corps. Dukes enlisted, left for boot camp last July and is a private first class in the 2nd Intelligence Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“That senior year of football was one of the best moments in my life, but after losing that and not having that sense of belonging that I tried to reach for all those previous years I was playing, I felt like I needed something that would give me that same feeling,” Dukes said. “I talked with a Marine Corps recruiter and began meeting weekly with other people who planned to enlist. Doing that was giving me that same sense of belonging and that pride that I felt when I was playing football with all my teammates.

“Especially when we stopped going to school because of COVID, those were the only people I was around. Playing football and being part of something bigger than myself led me to know that that’s what I wanted to feel the rest of my life.”

According to Ray, Dukes likely could have played college football at a high level had he played the sport at an earlier age. Nevertheless, it seems Dukes has found his way to a very good team.

Dukes said playing football at Central made him realize his potential.

“Not just in a sport, but in my life,” he said. “I didn’t have to be like everyone else around me. Like the family that I had that would make bad choices.

“The Marine Corps has given me a home, it’s given me friends, it’s given me food, it’s given me financial stability. I see myself staying in the Marine Corps and my dream is to become a drill instructor in the Marine Corps so that I can turn recruits into Marines and give them that opportunity for a better life that I wanted — and that I ended up getting.”

Kevin McGinty has resigned after three seasons as the varsity football coach at John Stark.

Three of McGinty’s assistant coaches from last season are no longer with the program, including offensive coordinator Jeff Kaplan, who died earlier this year. McGinty said last year’s JV head coach has moved out of state, and his defensive coordinator began a new job that will prevent him from coaching.

“I’m starting my masters program and without having enough help I don’t think that I could have done a quality job as head coach if I were to return,” McGinty said. “Having to train new assistants … there’s just no way I could make that kind of commitment. Having good assistant coaches is everything for a program because the head coach has so many other things they have to worry about. The actual running of the football program is done by assistants.”

McGinty was an assistant coach at John Stark for two seasons before he replaced Rod McQuarrie as the program’s head coach.

“I’m really broken up about having to resign,” he said. “I really wanted to try to keep doing it. With those three coaches, I could have coached and done the master’s program at the same time, but once I lost them there was no way to do it.”

Among the many talented pitchers competing in NHIAA baseball this spring it’s unlikely anyone has put up better numbers than Hanover High School sophomore Sam Sacerdote, who has a 4-0 record with a 0.00 ERA and a .227 WHIP. Sacerdote has 30 strikeouts and hasn’t given up a walk in 22 innings pitched.