Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.
Most everyone knows those words from a popular holiday song. When I just looked at the forecast on my phone before sitting down to pen this column, it seemed like that was all it was going to do, but if it’s not going to snow, then it’s going to be so cold.
When the weather gets like this for a week or so, I think of the tough jobs area athletic directors face in keeping sanity in their winter schedules. And the real good ADs have a tougher time preserving any semblance of a team-friendly schedule than others. The top notch ADs work tirelessly to fit games in down the stretch of the season in a way that possibly gives their teams the best route moving forward. It is very easy to just reschedule a game and plug it in where there is an opening, but consideration needs to be given to a team having four games in five or six days, three road trips in four days on school nights, etc. Very strong ADs obviously get more headaches working tirelessly trying to place square pegs into round holes, but these are the ones who really earn their money.
I look back at the 22 years I coached basketball at the high/prep school level and I worked constantly with the half dozen or so ADs I worked under to create a schedule that would be the best possible derived for the teams’ competitive edge, as well as physical and academic needs. I was blessed to have had the people sitting in the ADs seat at both Bellows Falls and Vermont Academy to have made sure they were team-friendly and did everything in their power to maximize both the athletes’ team and individual needs. Bud Weiser, Dan Covell, Martha Jamieson, Jim Peters, and Mike Atkins were the individuals who went the extra mile and it was strongly appreciated. If I have somehow forgotten an AD along the way, make sure someone wakes me up because every year I coached, their involvement played a part in any success those teams had because of their family and student-first attitude.
One of the best things about being a reporter is that there are times when you have a choice about what games you cover. From my reporting days, both newspaper and radio, there were so many times I could be a neutral correspondent at a gem of a game. My schedule allowed me to attend a high school game this Thursday, the final day of January. When I looked at the schedule, I found two that really caught my eye, among many contests that all seemed worthy.
The two which stood out the most were a couple of traditional rivals, Bellows Falls at Springfield and Fall Mountain at Bellows Falls. At first glance, I noticed right away that both contests featured Bellows Falls. I figured one of them must have been a make-up. How could two such attractive entertaining games be opposite each other? Then I ran into some Bellows Falls fans at the Hartford boys’ game last week and they were actually upset about the conflict. One parent told me they had called the school in November requesting a change and was disappointed no one had ever got back to them.
Then, I really started thinking. No, this piece isn’t going the way some of you expect right now. Bellows Falls is not the target. The entire Marble Valley League is, not to mention the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association.
We will begin with New Hampshire because they are the biggest problem of all in this type of scheduling. The premise of the entire state high school basketball schedule is built around boys and girls playing home and away on the same evening. It is easy and clean. If one team is on the road, the home gym is open. Both the boys and girls play on the same night, so there is no worry about complaints with either gender getting better prime time nights to play. And although make up games are always difficult to schedule, numerous open nights per week make things a lot easier. In fact, generally, New Hampshire schools play on Tuesdays and Fridays, just like they did way back when I was a kid.
Which also means, every team has a split crowd and students who may have interest in attending the other gender’s games, and back in the days when they could about 70 percent did, and parents who have children on both teams have all kinds of problems. It’s easy for the ADs, but not easy for almost everyone else. Sometimes officials are spread so thin, not ready for prime time youngsters learn to run with their whistle before they can walk.
Everyone talks about how crowds are just not what they use to be; well, they are not. There are all kinds of reasons everyone has pointed out from students having a variety of interests to basketball not being played at the same level anymore, which for the most part is true. But now, much of the crowd that used to be in attendance is split and is at another game scheduled for another team at the school. New Hampshire definitely is missing the boat.
Fall Mountain has done some things to combat the place they have been given and this creative thinking deserves a loud cheer. They play four games a year without splitting the teams. First, they have a couple of boy/girl doubleheaders with Stevens. In these cases, not only are the crowds not split, they are actually enlarged because there are a certain element of basketball fandom that only chooses to attend games of one particular gender. On these doubleheader nights, I have personally seen them stick around for both games.
Fall Mountain also still plays one boys’ game across the river with both Bellows Falls and Springfield. They make sure these contests are scheduled without the girls’ team in action. Thus, unlike most New Hampshire schools, Fall Mountain has four of their 18 regular games on a solo card.
Moving back to Vermont, the Marble Valley League creates the southern Vermont schedule. When the ADs receive the schedule, they have a chance to move things around. However, it takes two schools to move dates and find dates and that is not always easy. Bellows Falls just went through a stretch where the two teams had games on the same day four times in six or seven games. Somehow, this has to be addressed with powers that be, both in the MVL and the individual schools to keep this from happening.
Which game did I choose? In the end, it was the Fall Mountain at Bellows Falls boys’ game. I have gone two full seasons without seeing the Wildcat boys, thus that fact was the determining factor. I think both games have the capability of being a barnburner, so hopefully neither one disappoints.
Springfield tabs new baseball coach
Springfield baseball has been surfacing up a little in recent years, but that growth has been stymied to a degree by being a few talented athletes short overall. A full rebuild may take a few more years but AD Rich Saypack announced a hire this week that may be just what the doctor ordered. Justin Devoid, a 2017 graduate of Colby Sawyer College, is on board and the young man is an impressive one. It was less than a half-dozen years ago that he competed against Springfield as a standout at Hartford High School.
Devoid is presently helping out on the Hartford basketball bench as a volunteer assistant to Steve Landon, getting some priceless experience interacting with high school athletes. Devoid produced some incredible numbers in his baseball career at Colby Sawyer. In his junior season, cut in half by an injury, he hit at a team best .411 clip with an on base percentage of .484.
He was tabbed by the Upper Valley Nighthawks of the New England Collegiate Baseball League as a replacement player late that summer when he healed and made limited appearances in a league, which generally has little use for Division III college athletes. His healthy senior season at Colby Sawyer saw him hit .328 and he led the team in doubles, total bases, slugging percentage, and home runs. He also completed his career with the school’s second highest fielding percentage as a first baseman.
Saypack says, “It’s a bit of a risk putting a young coach in his first job right at the top, and believe me that weighed on my mind. But after three conversations with Justin and checking out his background, he may bring the fresh air our players need right now.”
I spoke with Devoid in an after game parking lot conversation about his hire and his outlook towards his opportunity. He said he wants to make a difference in shaping these athletes as both ballplayers and people, and listening to him certainly convinced me.
Devoid says, “I believe not only my skill set, but my knowledge of the game itself, provides me ample reason to be successful with this job opportunity.”
From here, success would mean things are still moving in the right direction two years from now. Stay tuned.