THIS & THAT: Adjustments to Vermont schools’ divisions

And then there were no undefeated high school basketball teams remaining in the area. When school was let out for the long Martin Luther King Day Weekend last Friday afternoon, both the Fall Mountain and Bellows Falls girls’ teams were part of an undefeated landscape. The Lady Wildcats were 10-0 atop the New Hampshire Division III standings by a respectable margin. At the same time, the Lady Terriers were 8-0 but sitting in eighth place on the other side of the river. New Hampshire’s Division III has always been an extremely tough division, likely equal to Vermont’s Division II. The reason Bellows Falls was down the ladder, despite being 8-0, is because they play mostly a Division III and IV schedule, which earns a team less points as a Division II team.

Springfield’s Gabby Wardwell (33) defends shooter Hannah Buffum squeezed between two Cosmo defenders. Wardwell, who scored three points on an old-fashioned three-point play down the stretch, helped keep Buffum in check all night on the way to a 33-24 Springfield victory over Green Mountain.
Photo by Denise Hunter.

And Fall Mountain and Bellows Falls have not played for a couple of years. The Lady Wildcats were generally scoring one-sided victories over the Terriers in each meeting and Bellows Falls pulled the plug on the series.

This corner still believes Fall Mountain would be the better team if they met, but it will take some creative work between Gordon Danserau and Ian Fraunfelder, the respective athletic directors of the two schools, to get them back together.

Bellows Falls attempted to compete with Fall Mountain in a scrimmage in preseason this year, but their efforts were stymied by the fact Fall Mountain starts practice and play much earlier than Vermont schools. Now with Vermont moving to a one-year cycle in basketball next school year, the odds improve that the two sides might get together again in the 2020-21 season. I have my fingers crossed.

Also, Bellows Falls will be departing Division II next winter and moving down to Division III where they belong at this time. Revolutionary changes are taking place in the Green Mountain State in how division alignments are put together. The October count, a school’s actual enrollment numbers, from October 2016, were used to determine divisions for most sports from August 2017 through this spring. So by the time a sports cycle was ending, the numbers utilized for placement included students who would be concluding their sophomore year in college. The October count used was the actual full student count for a school the year before the actual cycle began.

In hopes of improving the system, the count they are using now for next year only includes the present freshman, sophomore, and junior class – students who actually will be a part of the competing cycle next year. At least in basketball, the cycle will be in a sense current because it will only be a one-year cycle this time around.

The proposed numbers pointed out some very interesting patterns. The numbers mentioned here was the original draft before schools could appeal their placement.

First, for those who don’t know, New Hampshire classifies their divisions by total student count. Generally, both genders are placed in the same division by sport. The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association does not recognize separate numbers by gender. In Vermont, the Vermont Principals Association asks for both a female and a male enrollment count. Sometimes the differences are so large, teams are placed in separate divisions.

Those interesting patterns include Springfield, who has a near equal distribution between the two genders. There are 160 boys in the three determining classes this past fall in Cosmos land, while there were 157 girls. The boys are 13th in size of 18 competing schools in the division, moving towards the bottom of the ranks. The girls were12 of the 17 schools placed in that division.

Bellows Falls, Green Mountain, and Leland & Gray were all placed in Division III. Bellows Falls is near the top of that classification size-wise while the other two are close to the bottom.

Bellows Falls has a total of 130 boys and 120 girls. The boys’ total is second in Division III, while the girls’ total places them third largest. Bellows Falls has nine less boys than Enosburg, the smallest boys’ school in Division II.

The largest school placed in Division III boys for the next cycle is Woodstock at 137. The female enrollments in the girls’ Division III at the top of the ladder are Lake Region and Mill River with 123 and 121 girls respectively. Fair Haven is at the bottom of the Division II girls’ ladder at 124. Another interesting note shows that Fair Haven has 20 more boys than girls by the numbers.

Moving onto the other Division III area schools, both Green Mountain and Leland & Gray have an identical freshman, sophomore, and junior October count number for this year for boys at 77. The number has them only above Northfield and Rivendell of the 18 schools in the girls’ Division III ranks. Green Mountain has 21 more girls than Leland & Gray in the same three classes so the Chieftains are 13th in size while the Rebels are 17th, which is the smallest enrollment for girls placed in Division III.

These two competitors were fighting for the ball, and the competition was intense all evening long. Paige Karl (on the right) led Green Mountain in scoring with 14 while playing tight defense on the Cosmos Hannah Crosby (on the left). Crosby scored six points and contributed enough to help her team to victory. Photo by Denise Hunter.

Moving onto the numbers for Black River, which in reality is anyone’s guess for next year. This year’s count is likely to be lower if underclassmen move onto another school to establish continuity for the remainder of their high school academic career. However, the big intangible is how big is the distinction of being at the school in its final year of existence. This may be a tremendous pull for the senior class and its continuity. Black River’s October reported enrollment numbers were 35 girls and 31 boys. The girls’ number was 11 of 15 schools, while the boys placed 12 of 15. Some other interesting numbers saw Proctor, Mount Saint Joseph, and West Rutland total 31, 31, and 28 girls respectively, while on the boys’ side, Mount Saint Joseph showed they had 38 boys, West Rutland had 34, and Proctor had 24. Incidentally, the Mount Saint Joseph count came before they dropped football.

On the subject of football, I have campaigned for years for four football divisions. The rallying cry here was to assure more competitive games and to keep football alive at some of the schools where interest was dying. Since the campaign was launched, Montpelier, Missisquoi, Winooski, and now Mount Saint Joseph have dropped their programs. Few outside those communities shed much of a tear. I am not excited about eight-man football, but the belief here is there would be at least 32 teams playing football in Vermont if four divisions were in play.

It’s not too late, but it appears such a move will never happen. My proposal would place Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans, Champlain Valley Union, Essex, Hartford, Middlebury, Mt. Mansfield, Rutland, and St. Johnsbury in Division I; Brattleboro, Burr & Burton, Colchester, Fair Haven, Mount Anthony, Rice, and South Burlington- Burlington in Division II; Bellows Falls, Lyndon Institute, Milton, North Country, Spaulding, Union 32, Windsor, and Woodstock in Division III; and Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax, Mill River, Otter Valley, Oxbow, Poultney, and Springfield in Division IV. Every team would meet every other division rival during the regular season. Six teams would make the play-offs in each division except Division IV, where only four teams would qualify and their title game would be one week early.

The big problem preventing this proposal would be the playing of the St. Johnsbury-Lyndon Institute, Bellows Falls-Springfield, and Fair Haven-Poultney games. The VPA would have to sanction these grandfathered rivalries to be allowed to be played as game type competitions, the final weekend of the pre-season.


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