Springfield athletics changing attitude
Back in 2005, Todd Aiken was playing football for the Springfield Cosmos. The Green and White did not have a winning season, but Aiken knew his team was pretty good because they came close to a winning season. In Springfield, over time, that is considered good.
Todd Aiken has now been charged with guiding the Cosmos football program. He has always cared about the ways of his alma mater, but now wins and losses are on his official record. He wants athletes, like those who were in his class, to put the program in the best place possible.
“Back then, we had a number of guys who flat out wanted to play. These guys were willing to sacrifice and do what it takes to get the most out of what we had. They also liked and wanted to hit,” Aiken remembers.
Aiken was a part of teams for his sophomore and junior years. They then competed in Division II. They recorded records of 2-7 and 0-9 respectively. One of the reasons his class may have felt much more successful during their senior year is Springfield dropped down to Division III.
The team grew in confidence just because they were competitive week in and week out. Aiken was particularly excited about a 6-0 game the Cosmos played with Burlington. “That game showed we had a really good team,” he said. Burlington was in a higher division, but because the overall Cosmos schedule was not so daunting, the team was fresher each week.
Springfield is now a Division III team and there is no lower division to play in. However, Aiken thinks the “magic can be captured again. We first will work on getting the numbers up. We will even encourage players to join once school begins. We need to develop role players and show them that everyone’s role is important.”
As for changing the culture, Aiken admits there has to be some luck involved. He told me, “If we can make our own breaks and win a few in a row, these guys should forget all about the losing.” Aiken certainly realizes putting together one of those streaks will not be easy.
The Cosmos have assembled what appears to be a pretty good coaching staff. Ben Romeo will be the defensive coordinator. He saw the posting and the veteran assistant, recently toiling in some good programs in Connecticut, has joined the ranks. Cosmo Track Coach Jim Fogg, last year a volunteer, has an official position this fall and is working with the linemen on both sides of the ball. The third paid assistant is Brendan Donahue who will pay attention to the linebacking corps and the tight ends. The entire paid staff played college football, a rarity in Vermont coaching circles. Aiken competed at Norwich, Romeo at Sacred Heart, Fogg at Hamilton, and Donahue at Bates College.
Additional volunteer staff lending a hand are Bill Presch, a veteran from the middle school program, John Brown, a retired firefighter who will be counted upon to contribute in many ways including assessing injuries, and Ryan Duford who will pay attention to receivers and defensive backs.
This staff is being counted upon to set the atmosphere to increase overall numbers and Aiken talked about another goal this group is being charged with in hopes of erasing a culture of years of lack of success: “We are not going to let this group be intimidated.”
When Springfield won their play-off game at Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax last fall 18-3, it was clear growth was setting in and the Cosmos were trending in the upward direction. Since then, Head Coach Rich Saypack had a health incident and in the end decided stepping down from the position was necessary.
A week before practice began this fall, Saypack told me he felt strongly he made the correct decision. He actually traded coaching football and baseball for running the athletic department. The former coach is now the Cosmos athletic director.
“I know I have the feeling I am ready for this job,” Saypack said to me, “but I am still not sure if I would have been ready for the other one (being the head football coach). Every fall when you get near the field you identify with the smells of the game that make you eager to come back. Every day I feel better, but doing what I’m doing is probably best for me.”
Rich is now in charge of the entire Cosmos athletic kingdom and he feels there is reason to believe that boys sports may improve in the years ahead. The school’s lack of success on the boys’ side since 2010 and in many sports goes beyond the norm.
I asked Rich how much the closing of the shops keyed the downturn, but the dates don’t exactly line up. Soccer has had the most up years with teams in seven out of eight years period putting up a 69-18-10 mark, mostly under the guidance of Paul Kendall, who you might have seen on a Red Sox ad or two lately.
In the other sports, success has been much more fleeting. Football has had six winning campaigns in 30 years, but it is the 10th anniversary of the 2008 team, which went undefeated and captured the Vermont Division III State Title with a victory over Windsor 52-28. The Cosmos actually appeared in back-to-back title games versus the Yellow Jackets, falling to Windsor 19-8, the following year.
Baseball has had things even rougher. They have only had three winning seasons in the past 30 years. Basketball can’t equal soccer’s success in an eight-year period, but they do have 10 winning seasons over the 30-year stretch, including that Vermont Division II title over Vergennes in 2009, another 10th anniversary coming up.
To Springfield’s credit, they stayed in Division I in both baseball and basketball, long after CVL rivals, Bellows Falls and Windsor, left and even though that has no effect on where Cosmos’ programs are today, it contributes heavily to the numbers over 30 years.
In closing, Saypack, who is charged with running the Cosmo athletic machinery – obviously a throwback term – says, “I think the trend will start to change soon.”
The first step in such a direction, would be for as many athletes in as many sports as possible to come up with the mentioned attitude Aiken craves in his athletes. Remember when he spoke of some past Cosmo success, he noted, “We had a number of guys who flat out wanted to play. These guys were willing to sacrifice and do what it takes to get the most out of what we had.”
It has been very impressive how strongly the Springfield community has supported their athletes during the down times. Certainly crowds are not like the good old days, but both the numbers and the positive vocal vibes need to be saluted.
Walpole Babe Ruth success
It’s been four years in a row now that Walpole has advanced to the championship game of the Fall Mountain Baseball League. The league has undergone quite an upheaval in that time, losing teams and gaining teams, with the 2018 season, possibly one of the strongest in the league’s 50-plus-year history.
Walpole survived this year to capture the title of the eight-team expanded league. A decade ago, the league looked very much like it had looked for most of its history with almost every entry inside of 30 minutes from Bellows Falls. Now, gone are the Saxtons Rivers, the Westminsters, the Charlestowns, and the Alsteads and having arrived are the Sunapees, the Lebanons, the Claremonts, and the Newports. The towns are bigger, but Walpole is the winner again for the second time in three seasons.
Walpole defeated Claremont 13-1 in the game that counts and moves to the winners’ circle. Claremont beat Walpole in a thriller for last year’s title 4-3, while Walpole had defeated Springfield for all the marbles back in 2016. Even though Walpole romped in the title game, they may not have been the best team in the league this year.
One constant with all the Walpole winning has been Coach Kevin Tidd. The veteran coach knows the league inside out and he told me, “Sunapee was definitely the best team in the league this year. They were really tough. They ran into a conflict when it came to the tournament, as many of their players were going to soccer camp and they couldn’t field a team.”
Walpole was the second best team in the regular season in the league and one of only two teams who completed the year with a winning record. Sunapee ran away with the title going 12-1-1 and Tidd’s team finished 8-5-1. Ludlow finished third at 7-7 with Lebanon a close 6-6-1. Leading the second division was Newport at 6-7-1, followed by Bellows Falls 6-8, Springfield 4-9, and Claremont 4-10. Obviously, this all means the last place team reached the finals.
Tidd tells me, “Due to vacations and all, the tournament championship was wide open. There were a lot of teams who could of won it. Even we were missing four starters and found a way to win. This is a young talented group and a good baseball team, but for some reason, they need to be pushed to play their best ball.”
In the title game, Hayden Anastatio had three hits with both Lucas Roy and Curtis Hosley adding two hits. Nick Pelltier was the complete game winner on the mound, while striking out 10. Walpole reached the finals by doubling the count on Newport in the semis 16-8. Hosley and Pelltier each contributed two hits “in a really sloppy game played under wet conditions,” according to Tidd. Walpole trailed early in the semi-final victory, and Anastatio picked up the win on the mound with three strong innings of relief down the stretch.
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