This & That: Understanding school sports’ divisions

 

  Springfield competes in the Division III ranks in Vermont football and at this stage of the game, the Cosmos and their fellow teams can do little but shake their heads at what their schedule will look like. The MSJ/Poultney marriage of the past couple of seasons has dissolved and Missisquoi and Oxbow may and may not have enough players to field a team, so no one knows for sure, how many league games there will be in the fall of 2018. There was an early schedule sent out, but the developments have new drafts being considered now.

Tucker Peterson, former player and coach at Mill River, has been hired at MSJ to bring the Mountie program as far back to their hey day as is possible. His appeal as a coach to prospective students may add to a school enrollment that, at times, has dipped to low numbers, which have caused whispers as to whether the school would stay open. For years, many have been of the belief that without football, there would be no school. Football numbers had fallen so low in recent years, that to make sure they fielded a team, they combined with Poultney. They are now hoping their program will be attractive enough to add numbers from the outside, it seems.

Division III is not the only place where there are big questions headed into the fall of 2018. There is one big situation in Division I that should be answered prior to winter break. Football numbers at two of the states biggest schools, South Burlington (483 boys) and Burlington (493 boys) have both flirting with under 30 players in their football programs in recent years and both have strongly felt that they have been unable to compete at the highest level with that kind of participation. They have petitioned the VPA to combine their football programs into one. The VPA will be meeting late this week to possibly rule on this matter. The inside persons I spoken to say they believe the stamp will be put on this request. Time will tell.

One note of interest to those who feel big schools shouldn’t be given any leeway at all on Division placement, I had the opportunity in recent years to speak to Burlington Coach Brendan Carney quite often and he told me about the diverse number of cultures, which make up Burlington High. Although seven languages were part of the school’s pedigree, less than a handful of those traditional English as a second language students, have played football, and they make up a good part of the male population.

While on the subject of students and classification, football divisions are created by a formula using categories such as enrollment, as well as number of athletes in a program and teams records for a number of years, with each of the categories weighed in an attempt to put together the most competitive divisions possible. There are many good things about the method, but competitive football breaks down in Divisions II and III where there always seems to be several separate competitive levels.

In the other Vermont sports, there are two, three, or four divisions, depending upon the number of teams competing in said sport. Using basketball as an example and the four Vermont schools we cover in this paper, Springfield and Bellows Falls are in Division II. On the girls’ side, Springfield has 215 students and is the 6th largest of the 17 competing schools. Meanwhile, Bellows Falls’ total of 166 girls places them 11th in the group. Over on the boys’ side, Springfield’s boys count is 221 and Bellows Falls’ is 164, placing the two schools 9th and 16th respectively.

There are 18 schools in the boys Division II ranks. These counts tell us Springfield is a hard and fast DII established team, while Bellows Falls could be on the bubble team.

One cycle ago, Bellows Falls competed in Division III for girls and Division II for boys, but this time around, the boys are closer than the girls of sliding down a division. The funny thing about these numbers is that the divisions fluctuate depending on everyone’s enrollment as a total. The VPA attempt to even out the numbers as best as they can between divisions. So the Bellows Falls boys could lose 10 students, which would have allowed them to petition to compete in Division III in the present 2017-19 cycle, but dependent of every school’s numbers, that might not be the case for the next two-year cycle. Sometimes a school’s enrollment can drop even more, but they may end up with the same placement, even if they are a bubble team.

Moving along to the other two area schools in our division – Green Mountain and Black River – the Chieftains are a Division III competitor and have 118 girls, placing them 6th in that classification. They have 97 boys, making them the 12th largest competitor in their ranks. In DIII, there are 16 girls’ teams and 17 boys’ teams. Black River competes in Division IV, and their official counts for the Fall 2017-Spring 2019 cycle are 55 on the girls’ side, placing them as the fourth highest in their division, and 52 for the boys, which lands them as the 7th largest school.

I have mentioned before that unless a miracle occurs, Black River closes its doors in June 2019, but there are as many as four other schools likely headed the same way. So if indeed such a thing happens, there would be 9 girls’ and 11 boys’ teams remaining to compete come the 2019-2020 season. Will Division IV be eliminated at that time, or will fewer teams be assigned to every division with likely only 12 teams making the play-offs in each classification? Big things are coming our way in a short time.

For years now, I have been an advocate of Vermont going back to four divisions in football, especially due to comparative scores. This is an argument I presented after the fall 2016 schedule when the differences in each division between the “haves” and the “have-nots” were incredibly wide. It made for two-thirds of the games each week being blowouts. The powers say that they want to save football, but they allow a Springfield team, that is giving their all, to face Windsor, Woodstock, Bellows Falls, and Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax in the first four weeks. If the talented players aren’t banged up and/or have not lost all confidence, they have a chance in three of their four remaining games. Somehow, those same powers do not see that one of the biggest reason football in Vermont is dying is because they don’t want to help the have-nots, who should have a better week by week experience. They have lost Montpelier and Winooski in recent years and Oxbow, Missisquoi, and possibly MSJ are hanging on by threads.

The NHIAA in New Hampshire have made an off-season move to try to help the weakest programs in the Granite State. Fall Mountain falls in that group, and they have refreshed hope with the state going back to four divisions next fall. Fall Mountain followed a winless campaign with a 1-7 record last year and are now in an eight-team statewide Division IV, which gives them a better chance. Odds are, they will be 3-5 at the best, but that is a whole lot better than what they have faced recently. The best teams in the new eight-team structure should be in order: Bishop Brady, Franklin, Raymond, and Newfound with Fall Mountain, Winnisquam, Farmington-Nute, and Mascoma rounding out the division. This division will play a seven-game schedule followed by four teams advancing to the post-season.

divisions
Fall Mountain’s Ranger Wilson has been one of the intangibles in Fall Mountain’s success this winter. He occasionally is one of the team’s top scorers, but he adds plenty of those intangibles, which has led to the Wildcats success. Photo by Doug MacPhee.

While referring to Fall Mountain, I should mention, both basketball teams are playing the best basketball around. The girls have been in contention for a number of years and could defeat any area foe, while the boys are also the best on court team at the moment. The boys are only 11th in the NHIAA standings at 7-5 in league games, but a four-game victory streak and a scare of the highest proportions thrown at New Hampshire Division III top seed Mascenic before bowing on the road 49-48 put them in high stead. When I last reported on the team, they were 4-3, and they have lost just two tough games to number one Mascenic and a tough one to number three Hopkinton, 66-47. Their other losses this winter are also to teams in the top positions in the NH Division III rankings including Monadnock, Conant, and a second loss to number one Mascenic.

One sure sign of spring is that the Red Sox equipment truck will leave Yawkey Way in Boston and head to Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. before I write another column. Many people will gather at Fenway Park on Monday, Feb. 5 to see the truck take off on its 1,480-mile journey to warmer weather where the Red Sox will attempt to lay the foundation for their third straight American League East title. Interesting that the Patriots could still be out celebrating a Super Bowl title from the night before.

Before we are hit with more bad weather, try to find your way to a neighborhood gym and see a game.

 

If you would like to comment on the sports page in this paper, feel free to email me at bmurphy@vermontjournal.com.

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