What were you doing last Sunday afternoon? Many of you were watching the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28.
Record numbers watched that game in New England. The sport today has so many questions surrounding its approach at so many levels, but the television numbers don’t lie and the masses still flock to the coverage. Not even the flawed leadership of Roger Goodell has put a dent in its popularity. Come to think of it, maybe in this part of the country, ratings might soar because of Goodell.
Pride in sports is obviously a determining factor of who chooses to follow it. Locally, that pride isn’t what it use to be, but nights like Monday evening when the echoes woke up any slumbering dust mites in old Presidential Hall in Ludlow, allowing a traditional rivalry to have at least one more grand night in the facility, was a reminder of days gone by. Traditional rival Green Mountain was in the building and with a competitive boys’ game. The people who came out on a cold winter’s night were rewarded with one last competitive tussle. Sitting here disappointed that I missed that one. How about you? This could possibly be the last winter barnburner in the structure.
One thing lacking at some schools today is a holiday tournament or an event that takes place between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It is tremendous for every boys’ and girls’ basketball team to take part in a tourney during the time more people are off from work and college students are on break. Fall Mountain is the only school that fully takes care of their students in this regard, maximizing the number of people who can make attendance figures the highest possible.
Fall Mountain presently hosts the former Keene State College event while Keene State still hosts the boys’ tourney. Green Mountain hosts a tourney for both genders, but it takes place before the holiday period officially begins. The good news about that is Chieftain athletes have an opportunity to compete in one of these feel good events. The bad news is, bigger crowds could be attracted. Taking things a step further, some schools don’t even compete at all during the break period, which in many ways is a nice family break but truly not team progress friendly.
In my perfect world, you could take the three schools mentioned in the next paragraph and throw them into a four-team tournament with one of the other area schools over break and have quite an event. Have Green Mountain host the event, since they already have success in that regard, and have the other Vermont area schools take part next year on Dec. 27 and 28 with two snow dates set for Dec. 30 and 31. Bellows Falls, Springfield, Green Mountain, Leland & Gray would meet the first day in both genders in the first round with the titles and consolation games to follow the final day of the event. This event might become so popular it might have to end up rotating between Bellows Falls and Springfield to accommodate the crowds.
Last winter, I pointed out the tremendous Big Three competition between three of our girls’ basketball teams in our area. When Springfield, Bellows Falls, and Green Mountain get together on the hardwood, one usually can expect a close competitive contest. Thank goodness area athletic directors have made sure these teams all meet each other twice again this winter. Which team will end up with the best record in those head-to-head clashes is anyone’s guess. All six games are still to be played so if you want to see some excitement, circle these dates on the area sports schedule.
The fun begins next Monday, Jan. 21 when Springfield hosts Green Mountain. Then on Saturday, Jan. 26, Bellows Falls travels to Green Mountain for a 2:30 p.m. match-up. Two days later, Jan. 28, the Cosmos take the short bus ride to Chester and on the final day of January, the latest chapter of the Bellows Falls-Springfield rivalry plays out in Springfield. The final two encounters are in February, as Green Mountain will be at Bellows Falls on Feb. 7 and Springfield will bop down there on Feb. 11. All those games will begin at 7 p.m., except the noted 2:30 p.m. clash.
One thing different from days gone by is the cross division rivalries. For years, teams competed mainly within their own division assigned by the state powers and those division schedules would make up at least 70 percent of your schedule. Teams rarely changed divisions. In today’s world, teams generally are reclassified every two years. There have even been one-year classifications as was the case this fall with Bellows Falls Field Hockey. Today’s approach makes it very difficult to develop or maintain rivalries. This makes the area match-ups with Springfield, Bellows Falls, and Green Mountain even more enticing to me.
On the subject of rivalries and classifications, for the first time since the late ‘80s with a couple of notable exceptions, Bellows Falls and Brattleboro find themselves in the same division in football beginning in the fall. There was something about the stability of all those years of playing the same teams and schedules that was comforting, but both the state powers that be and the Marble Valley League recognized the fact that blow out games didn’t do anyone any good thus the constant redos. I don’t like redos continually but allowing a town and/or a sport a chance to compete for a title once in a while makes sense.
The Vermont football league has recently been doing the same thing. Burlington came down to Division II for a while in hopes of growth, Mount Anthony did the same a couple of years back, and now Brattleboro has their turn. The Colonels rejected an opportunity a couple of years ago but now see its merit. Too bad they didn’t come back then. The last two seasons, Bellows Falls and Brattleboro would have been a great match. Right now, the Colonels are likely the stronger team and the two tentatively are slated to open the fall schedule against each other next Labor Day weekend.
School enrollments have changed so much in recent years. It is very difficult to keep track. Not too long ago, when I was coaching Bellows Falls boys basketball, the Terriers were a solid middle of the pack Division II school. Next school year cycle, chances are Bellows Falls will be near the top Division III school at least in basketball. The present approach makes sense completely, but the old days were comfortable.
In fact, some readers might be surprised to know that up until 1988, Bellows Falls basketball competed in the Southern Vermont League, which was considered a Division I league. Rutland, Mount St. Joseph, Mount Anthony, Brattleboro, Hartford, Springfield, Windsor, and Bellows Falls were the traditional members of that league. Bellows Falls and Windsor, the smallest enrollment number schools, were the first two to leave searching for a competitive place to play after routine 25-plus point defeats.
These departures eventually brought about the end of the Southern Vermont League. At the time, there were two leagues in southern Vermont. The bigger schools made up the mentioned SVL and the rest, primarily the smaller schools, were a part of the Marble Valley League. There were a couple of big meetings, which led to the formation of one unified MVL, but the transition was anything but easy. The bigger schools had always liked doing things their own way and many of their smaller brothers were concerned about their acceptance of the mission of the MVL, but eventually concessions were made by the larger schools and the bigger Marble Valley League have operated smoothly in the days since.
Sitting here thinking about that, there are three weeks remaining in the NFL season. Everyone who cares, and many of you who don’t, know the Super Bowl is now played in February. Back when I was in my best days, the NFL title game took place on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day and was played in cold weather, but not so many games faced the tough elements. Football was not the only sport that was over earlier. The World Series ended by Oct. 15 and both the NBA and NHL play-offs were done by the time all the leaves were on the trees. For those 40 and under, that’s why those really were the Good Old Days.
Any of you who are shaking your head at those words will find out, the words are true. But when you are my age, your old days you will refer to are the ones that are still playing out now.