Chances are you have heard the tale of Rip Van Winkle. Not in my wildest imagination, did I think I would pull a Rip Van Winkle during the stretch run of the spring sports season!
My heart played tricks with me, as my pump reacted 24 years after I had 57 radiation treatments to win a battle with Hodgkins Disease. Here’s hoping this column returns today without interruption for the foreseeable future.
The biggest story during my absence was certainly the repeat championships of the Bellows Falls Terriers track teams. Coach Tim Eno usually tells us each year if his team has a chance. As the calendar moves deep into May, Eno’s enthusiasm usually rises and Eno works the numbers this way and that way to determine how he think points will be tallied in the Vermont State Division III meet.
This year, the Terrier boys won their sixth straight state championship and Bellows Falls has captured eight titles in Eno’s tenure. The Bellows Falls girls’ title was their third in a row and their fifth in Coach Eno’s time in the head coach position. Both of the Bellows Falls girls’ previous titles were won at the Division II level.
Eno and the school administration have applied to petition up to Division II competition for next season. They have all their ducks in a row and it looks like they will be accepted. We spoke to Bob Johnson of the Vermont Principals Association and he expected BF would be notified about their placement by the end of the month.
There are people (fans) who say, “Why didn’t Bellows Falls move up long ago?” When they have won so often, that is easy to say, but wait just a moment…
Track is a sport that basically has a limited number of schools that have full squads. Good news is, over the past decade more and more smaller schools have sponsored teams, allowing division IV to officially list 22 teams – more than in any other sport. However, only a fraction of those teams carry much of a roster.
Believe it or not, enrollment figures don’t even place Bellows Falls near the top of Division III. The Bellows Falls 166 girls and 164 boys place them smack dab in the middle of the current Division III alignment in Track and Field. Thus, in reality, there shows how their achievements should be judged and they should be extremely proud of what they have accomplished.
Despite what enrollment figures say, Bellows Falls obviously has risen to the top of Division III. They have had competition, mainly Thetford and Oxbow in the boys’ ranks and Woodstock, Thetford, and Oxbow in the girls. Eno reminds me Woodstock ran off six straight state titles, just prior to the Bellows Falls girls’ three-year run.
Eno expected his teams to fare well in this year’s Championship Meet, but something phenomenal happened on the way to claiming both crowns. This happening was so phenomenal, the veteran coach has never seen anything close to it happen in his coaching career.
“We had 55 athletes qualify for the meet and 43 of them had personal bests during the day,” the coach remarked, telling me with our follow up question, that having one-fourth of them rise to that level may not even be the norm. Did this year’s Terriers come to perform or what? What a team effort!
The constants during most of this stretch are the coaches. Eno leads the way, but he dishes out loads of praise to those around him. Grumpy Haskell, a volunteer coach in the javelin, has been on this journey for 24 years. Meanwhile, there’s Eno’s two assistants. Mike Bennett – who Eno recognizes as the strength coach – has ten years in in the program, and Tim Clark – who at one time was the head coach at Hanover High School – joined Eno five years ago and “has contributed so much to our distance runners, pole vaulters, and in the high jump and the hurdles.”
Eno salutes his coaches, but he says, “I think the most important thing to look at in this program’s success, is the athletes. They work so hard and they make the biggest difference. I also need to point out the success the junior girls have had. I’m already looking forward to working with them one more year. They are a phenomenal group.”
How about that one more year? Remember, odds are that they will be in the Division II meet next time around. Eno says, “It’s hard to compare,” but then I remind him that I know him, and he has already done his comparisons and put all the numbers on paper to the test.
He admits that he has done just that, but he reminds me that the intangible of the challenges facing the athletes themselves and the give and take of how one reacts to being pushed by another in another divisions competition is not in this year’s numbers.
We agree, but honestly Tim, what do you think will really happen next year if you land in Division II?
“Barring injuries or losses of athletes in other ways, we should be top three,” he tells me. That’s what he said this year. This will be definitely fun to watch.
The big question is, will there be a Division IV in Vermont sports in about five years?
“That’s a good question,” Bob Johnson told me Monday, “but the way Activities Standards has thought in the past is you have to keep the smaller schools together. The thinking has always been to be fair to the small schools remaining. They have to have someone of similar size to compete with.”
But the unfortunate fact is, the number of those small high schools in Vermont diminish every year. This area has been hit with the soon-to-be loss of a treasure in Black River High School, and there are still more closings around the state to come.
“We don’t know how many more we will still lose,” Johnson said. “Our next reorganization for [2019-20] will be interesting. But beyond that one, things will become much more difficult. You want enough teams in each division and you want to be as fair as you can be to all sizes of schools.”
The most acute problem Johnson feels today is the number of byes in state tournament play. “I become more and more uncomfortable every year with the number of byes in one tournament or another,” he told me.
I suggest possibly it is time to go to 12 post-season teams regardless of the size of the division.
Johnson correctly points out here to me, that it’s a committee that makes the decisions, and any beliefs he has are just part of a process. In most sports, there are 16 or 17 teams still remaining in each division. However, Johnson notes, “I’m told we could lose a few more, so in the end, we don’t know what that will mean.”
The VPA’s Activities Standards Committee meets Aug. 2 and 3, and I am sure they will take a good look at both the present and the future. In each high school closing, the task at hand gets more difficult, especially when they are hoping to keep fairness in mind.