Happy New Year! I mean those words in so many ways each and every year. Here’s hoping whatever wishes or resolutions you have expressed for 2021, you don’t abandon – even if you have already decided to do so. It is so difficult to stay the course with our lives disrupted in all the manners it has been in the last 10 months, but show your strengths to those you love, including yourself, by jumping back on the horse to what you believe will make your year a success.
Generally this space doesn’t spend any time addressing politics. Truly, it has never seemed worth it. However, the state of high school sports in Vermont is so confusing over the past month, it is tough to know which way to turn.
From the time I began to understand the local sports scene, which was probably about the mid-’60s until sometime in the ’80s, the Headmasters ran high school athletics. Then one day, after they had received an incredible amount of criticism for so many years, they made a name change to the Vermont Principals Association. It was basically only a change in name; but amazingly, people for the most part became less critical and sports somehow flowed more smoothly. The transition was basically a rebranding that worked.
Move forward to the year 2020, and where do the people go to express themselves if they are frustrated with the present state of Vermont high school athletics? The honest answer is nowhere. Or more exactly, there is nowhere to really get any answers or direction.
The Vermont Principals Association does exist, and they are the governing body of high school athletics, but the Vermont state government – the governor’s office, the Vermont Department of Health, and the Office of Human Resources all have a part among possibly others – has control of whether they feel the time is right for student athletes to compete during the Covid-19 pandemic. In normal times, when there are procedures and policies permanently in place to seek out answers, there would be much more uproar. But if you tune into the Tuesday and Friday state updates and see Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Lavine turning three weeks older between each conference, you realize what they are dealing with – unfortunately leaving no further time for high school athletics debate in the present. However, what I would like to see them do is coordinate a little better with the VPA’s Bob Johnson before making public announcements.
On Dec. 22, when they announced high school sports could begin in four days, almost every Vermont school was about to shut down for the holiday break, custodial schedules were all set – most slated for vacation – and schools were not prepared for athletes and parents clamoring for play the day after Christmas. That caused more outrage than the four weeks the athletes had patiently waited on the sideline since being delayed from Nov. 30.
They should have just told the VPA they were ready to move to the next stage and let the organization figure out what works for the masses. Imagine the disappointment faced in some towns where those athletes thought they had received a great holiday gift and haven’t even had a practice yet because the logistics couldn’t be worked out.
Having said that here’s letting you know where things presently stand locally.
High school sports began in earnest in some New Hampshire venues Tuesday, Jan. 12, but no one knows where the games will end up in either state that borders the Connecticut River. All five area high school athletic directors have been prepping hard to give their student athletes the best active experience possible with what Covid-19 protocols will allow them to do. I salute all the local school leaders and school boards who are putting their hearts and souls into attempting to plot the best way forward while an invisible virus challenges such efforts. No one loves sports more than I do, but this is the first time ever I hesitate about the games going on.
Fall Mountain is the only area school with a clear direction about competition at the moment. They begin play next week on Monday when the Lady Wildcats host Newport at 5 p.m. and the same two teams will meet again on Thursday at 6 p.m. in Newport. The boys’ teams from the same two schools hook up on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Langdon and on Friday at 6 p.m. in Newport. Both schools field Unified Co-Ed Basketball teams, and they will compete on Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 3:30 p.m. in Newport. Most New Hampshire schools are playing schedules meeting the same school twice in a week to support contact-tracing and limiting athletes’ outside school exposures each week.
Fall Mountain AD Gordon Danserau says, “Most schools will not allow spectators. There will be no spectators for Fall Mountain home games. Hanover, Lebanon, Mascoma, and Sunapee also will allow no fans. Stevens is allowing two fans for each senior athlete competing for both home and away teams. Newport is allowing three fans for each Tiger senior athlete, but no away fans.” It appears Vermont games will not have fans at all.
Every area team is attempting to stream their home basketball games to give the opportunity for all fans of their school an opportunity to see their games this winter. Danserau tells me Fall Mountain will use the Hudl program, and the games will run live on the school website. Danserau added that the school’s boys’ and girls’ cross-country ski programs began their practices outside back in December and will stage their first competition at home Jan. 23 against Hanover and Lebanon. Each school will do their runs separately on the same course with the placements decided by time when everyone has completed their effort.
On the Vermont side of the river, the governor’s press conference Dec. 22 announced all practices could begin with a fundamentals base and no contact beginning Dec. 26. Although this was tremendous news for the student athletes, it was a problem for the majority of the schools throughout the state because most were in remote learning mode. Custodial staff, which is crucial in controlling Covid-19, were in either vacation mode or working very limited hours, not expecting anyone in the buildings. This created numerous conflicted situations throughout schools as they scrambled to do the best they could do to get the athletes in action as soon as they reasonably could.
Although all four Vermont area schools have begun or have scheduled their opening practices by now, it is not clear when the games will begin. Each school presently has their schedule, but the original slates called for games to begin back on Monday, and the governor’s office had not allowed players to advance to the scrimmage stage as of the Tuesday, Jan. 12 press conference. Those supposedly in the know are wishing and hoping for games to begin by Jan. 25 or Feb. 1 at the latest, but everyone is in a “wait and see” stage.
Springfield AD Rich Saypack says, in his opinion “It’s all about how the holiday surge plays out. We could be okay, but…” and he went silent. Cosmos basketball teams didn’t begin their practices until last Friday. In their case they couldn’t play a game until they complete 10 practice days or seven practice days after contact is allowed.
Another winter sport for the Cosmos will be bowling. Saypack was worried for a while, wondering if and where the team could play because the local Up Your Alley Lanes were closed, but he was able to work out an agreement for the building to open for limited hours to accommodate the program. If competition were held, it would be virtual. Dance began practicing on Monday.
Cosmo fans will have two separate places they will be able to pick up their hoopsters in action. They will be able to tune in the games on either the Cosmos Athletics Facebook page or the Cosmos Athletic YouTube channel. Saypack has announced that the streamed games would be offered free of charge but that there would be a place for viewers to make donations.
Bellows Falls will be another school utilizing Hudl to bring the games. The school’s only sport this winter will be the two basketball teams. There are two ways to pick up these games, according to Athletic Director Ian Fraunfelder. He told us Fact TV will be televising the games live. For those who aren’t connected to the cable, which carries the channel in Bellows Falls, he says, “You can also access it on the Fact TV website.” The Terriers began practicing Dec. 31.
Both Green Mountain and Leland & Gray had not begun practicing before this week, but the Chieftains took the floor Monday. Hopes are the Rebels can begin next Tuesday, but they still won’t be practicing in their own building as the school is expected to keep its doors shut until Feb. 9. AD Marty Testo has arranged for the use of Jamaica Elementary School’s multipurpose room for practices when both hoop teams take the floor next week. In the meantime, Testo and the coaches have offered online conditioning and in-house drills including working on shooting form sitting in a chair. If and when games do begin, Leland & Gray will also utilize Hudl and the games will be able to be found on the schools website and activities calendar.
In addition to the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, Green Mountain AD Todd Parah related that the Chieftains would be providing rock climbing. Although no competition is planned in the sport at this time, opportunity for student athletes to engage will be presented. Green Mountain hopes to work with Okemo Valley TV to offer presentation of their games if the state of Vermont moves to the competition stage. Presently, all practices are emphasizing conditioning drills and fundamental skill work at all schools. No actual physical playing of the sport is allowed.