“Strong legs run that weak legs may walk” is the motto I remember being connected to the game since I was a child. The annual contest between Vermont and New Hampshire played each August, recently passed the $5 million raised mark over its existence. Winning and losing the game is important on the surface for those who follow the game as sport, but it’s the children in Shriners Hospitals that are the true reason for the game being played in the first place.
Here’s hoping the game can return to its roots for the next few years competition-wise. For those who don’t know, the game began in 1954 at Holman Stadium in Nasuha, N.H. The first and only game played there was held Sept. 6, 1954, and New Hampshire won an exciting affair 12-7.
One year later in Manchester, N.H, at Athletic Field, Vermont’s squad evened the count with a 12-6 victory. Keeping things close on the field, the two teams struggled to a scoreless tie the following August again in Manchester where three straight games were held. The first game in the series was the only game ever held in September. For many years, the game was held the last Saturday in August, eventually moving up to the second Saturday of the month as it is scheduled now.
Thus, if you have processed the results from above, following the first three games, each state had one victory and the other contest concluded in a tie making the series even at 1-1-1 with the Green Mountain State outscoring the Granite Staters 19-18, making it an interesting very competitive series.
The final game played in Manchester, N.H. gave a preview of coming attractions as they stomped Vermont 35-7. The following year, the game was moved to Hanover, N.H., where the game resided for 50 of the next 53 years, allowing most people aware of the game to think of Dartmouth’s Alumni Field as the game’s official home.
In Hanover’s inaugural game in 1958, New Hampshire won their second contest in a row 18-0, but Vermont won the next year 27-0. The two teams tied for the second time 14-14 the following year in my first attendance at a Shrine Game. Now the series stood at 3-2-1 with New Hampshire in the lead. I had witnessed an exciting tie, and the series appeared to be shaping up for the perfect August get together for years to come.
Not so fast … New Hampshire then came to absolutely dominate the series, winning 44 of the next 57 games and, in most years, by more than two touchdowns. It was a story if Vermont came close, and it would really be a story the years Vermont won, which they did about once every five years.
Until… Vermont won the past two years. Now once again the powers that be, and most of the game’s die-hard fans, are hoping to balance the game like it was at the beginning.
Many in New Hampshire took much importance off the game a few years back for a variety of reasons, including Shrines differing opinions in the two states, New Hampshire’s dominance combined with the growing importance of the Granite State’s East-West Chad Game, and the switch of the venue from Hanover and Dartmouth College to Castleton. The Shriners want a competitive game and appreciated the Hanover venue for many reasons, but the agreement with Castleton and especially the way the school and the event have made raising funds at a consistently high level an annual happening, it is likely some things about the game will never be the same.
Locally, Bellows Falls still sends a representative or representatives almost every year, while Springfield and Fall Mountain sometimes have representation. The Terriers have three in the game this time around: Shane Clark, Logan Cota, and Jared Zobkiw. Chris Bashaw finds his way on the roster from Fall Mountain.
Terrier Coach Bob Lockerby looks forward to his players seeing action in the encounter. He told me, “Cota has been taking some snaps at quarterback and I think he and Clark should see plenty of action on the offensive side of the ball at running back or receiver. Zobkiw should see playing time at offensive tackle.”
In addition, Bellows Falls line coach, Mike Empey, is working as an assistant coach for the game.
Orion Binney, the Wildcats first year coach, is excited for Bashaw’s opportunity and – as a former player in the Wildcat colors himself – remembers when players around his playing days, Derek Dimartino, Ryan Tratani, and TJ Perry were recognized for their contributions to Fall Mountain football. In later years, both Eric and Ryan Bentley were standouts of the same order.
Speaking of Bashaw, this time around, Binney said, “Chris has been working hard getting ready. They have him listed as a linebacker and he plays consistently strong from the point of attack and has a good nose for the ball.”
Not only has Vermont won the last two Shrine games, the pendulum has swung so far, it is out of kilter. Vermont won the 2016 game 50-2 and then brought home the winning way again last August 19-0 for a two-year total of 69-2.
I spoke to Kristi Morris, the general chairman of the game and he said, “Many of the New Hampshire communities feel we have some strong athletes this year who will make their team much better.”
I look back to my youth with close games and a toss up outcome and see excitement generating around the playing of the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Game. It appears the bottom line of the financial part of the game has come around. Here’s wishing the excitement on the field can come to match the growth of what really counts.
Some baseball notes
Kendal Heath has been in the news being a mainstay pitcher for the Bellows Falls Legion Baseball team this summer. Some readers may remember his older brother Brandon made a name for himself as a standout player at Fall Mountain before Kendal took top billing. Brandon is back in the news again as he was added to the Keene Swampbats playing roster this summer. Brandon is the second area baseball player to have seen action in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
Former Bellows Falls pitcher Michael LaBeau had an all-star season for the Swampbats just two summers ago. Brandon Heath, a Keene State College rising senior, is now a pitcher on the Keene pitching staff.
The Connecticut River Baseball League has enjoyed one of its most competitive seasons in recent memory. Keene, Claremont, and the Walpole Wild Blue finished one, two, three in the regular season standings, but none of the three are left standing for the finals slated for Saturday at Walpole’s Hubbard Complex. The Walpole Maples will face the Putney Fossils in the title game at 1:05 p.m.
Several baseball fans have told me that the two games competed last weekend in the semifinals were held at a high level of baseball. Longtime adult baseball standout and coach, Frank Brown, who can be critical with the best of them when such stance is needed, told me, “We actually had six teams in this league this summer who can really play.”
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