This & That

I find it tough that when events happen in high school sports that border on the outrageous, there is little answer about how to correct them. I also know I take time worrying about this type of thing more than the average person.

Today, I am referring to some recent softball scores. They were 35-0, 16-5, 23-22, 18-1, and 54-1. Obviously the two that stand out are 35-0 and 54-1. Those numbers represent the Bellows Falls Union High School softball season thus far this spring. There is good news though. The 23-22 score was a win.

Both softball and baseball seasons are highly dependent on how much strong pitching a certain team has. In softball, pitching is part of the equation but defense usually plays a higher role in the final outcome than in baseball when the pitching isn’t particularly strong. I sit here wondering how can a record like BF’s be addressed?

I really don’t know how readers feel, but often sports enthusiasts answer that players need to work harder to get better. That’s the macho answer, but I definitely don’t accept it.

Terrier Athletic Director Ian Fraunfelder is working on an answer, but as we all know it will be too late for this year’s team. “We are looking forward to next year,” he tells me. “We are going down to Division III and the crossover games won’t be as difficult.”

Schools in both Vermont and New Hampshire are handicapped by the small landscape of teams they have a chance to play. First, there are league specifications and then there are state guidelines. Every athlete wants to believe when the season begins that they are competing for something, but the truth is a number of teams cannot compete at all. During my 50-plus years of following high school sports in the two states, very few teams have ever chosen to go independent. There are so few teams to schedule to begin with. If even six schools in a state chose to be independent, it would make a big difference, and every team’s schedule would be impacted in the end.

Once upon a time, I coached a Bellows Falls basketball team that chose to go independent for three years. Many schools in the league we left were very mad at us. The truth is, I couldn’t take time to care. We were 2-18, playing a Division I schedule we didn’t belong in with some decent basketball players who competed and deserved to enjoy the sport more. They lost 11 games by five points or less. They would have been a contending Division II team, but they had always been in Division I so that’s where they belonged.

The next chapter is we wouldn’t even be a third as good the next year and a couple of the Division I coaches were known to purposely run up scores. Kids don’t deserve to be pummeled 90-35, I believe.

The administration and the school board were concerned enough to listen to my pleas at the time, and we went on the three-year sabbatical to the independent schedule and thank goodness were aligned well when our time was up. This is not a piece to recommend Bellows Falls softball to do such a move, and more frequent alignments do help today. However, it is to say that sometimes to fix things you do have to worry about yourselves and think outside the box.

Fraunfelder said there had been no discussion about taking an independent approach in house, but he hopes the division change will play a big part in the Terrier softball future improvement. In order for Southern Vermont to function, Division I and II and Divisions III and IV play crossover games to fill out schedules. That’s why Bellows Falls is playing Brattleboro (35-0) and Rutland (54-1). Thus versus Division I foes Bellows Falls’ average score is 46-1 rounded up, while the average score in other games is 18-10, which is livable. Cross your fingers that the move works in the future.

If it doesn’t, Fraunfelder has seen “Once where a new team did it in soccer to help them become competitive. So I know it can work.”

Fall Mountain is next for Bellows Falls and the Wildcats are a very decent 4-2. Wildcat coach Kevin Hicks has the tough job of preparing his team to play Bellows Falls next. We asked Hicks, knowing in this day of social media that his athletes will be more than happy to be the next ones to pound Bellows Falls, especially since there is sort of a rivalry between the two with The Lecroix Cup at stake, how you address a game like this? He told me, “Our task is to prepare for BF and every game to prove that you are the better team. No one is going to give you the game. You must earn it,” regardless of anyone’s record.

It would be easy for me to say, come on Kevin, you will win easy, but there have been some unbelievable upsets I have seen in my lifetime.

Yes, believe it or not, I have seen bigger. Honest. Not many over all my years, but I have seen bigger.

Springfield softball

Andy Bladyka’s Springfield girls’ softball team is one of the most consistent teams in this reporting area year after year. They play that Division I/II crossover schedule and survive. The Cosmos are 4-2 early this year and one of the reasons they are competitive is that they do have pitching. Hannah Crosby has thrown for the Cosmos for a number of years now, and she was certainly a centerpiece when the locals upset DI perennial Final Four team Mount Anthony 4-3 earlier this season. Bladyka’s team did lose to both Brattleboro and Rutland, but they have been known to be able to compete with them. In fact, Springfield was tied with the Raiders 9-9 going into the final frame before losing.

This year’s Springfield team could compete deep into the spring, but Bladyka tells me, “There is still plenty of work to be done. This is a good group. We have a combination of experience and new players. I really like our make-up, say our chemistry. We have to particularly work on our defense to get us to where I want us to be.”

The culture of Springfield softball is special, especially when they have a night game at Robinson Field. Good crowds turn out on a regular basis for Bladyka’s team and the atmosphere even makes outsiders feel like a part of their special community.

Springfield lost a tough one to Enosburgh in the quarterfinals last year and could well get to be competitive at least that far again this spring. The team also has some of the same players who enjoyed success in the basketball world this winter and they may have brought some of their momentum along.

Area high school football players nominated for award

In the end, only six were chosen and none were from this area, but two area football players were on the final list of 24 statewide finalists for becoming a Vermont High School Scholar Athlete Inductee for 2018 in the Vermont Chapter of the National Football Foundation. Bellows Falls’ Reno Tuttle and Springfield’s Deacon Watson both were in the group who were nominated for their outstanding football ability and performance, outstanding academic achievement, and outstanding school leadership and involvement. Good going guys!

Both are strong football players and both compete well in track and field as well. Bellows Falls track coach Tim Eno tells me that last weekend in the Windsor Invitational that Tuttle set a personal best in the shot and added that Tuttle “has been a really important part in what we have doing here in recent years.”

Former Terrier Gridder remembered at Vermont Academy

The late Tim Fontaine was once an outstanding three-sport athlete for Bellows Falls. Although the majority of his notoriety came in the sport of football, Fontaine did a little bit of everything on a strong basketball team that challenged for a state title and was one of the better baseball pitchers around in his day. He went on to play football at the University of Massachusetts, where he even appeared in a nationally televised bowl game. He saw time both at quarterback and as the team’s punter. Following graduation from BF, Fontaine prepped a year at Vermont Academy, where he quarterbacked the Wildcats to a strong season.

While at VA, Fontaine formed a strong bond with some teammates, especially Rossi Turner, who went on to become a renowned artistic director and choreographer and legendary dancer who made it big in Nashville. In a recent article of Vermont Academy Life, Turner remembered a time when a big school played a small school in athletics and shot out a memory of Fontaine’s prowess in the tribute.

He shared of the day, “Choate Academy arrived with three buses of football players. Thus, they had more players on the buses than we had students at Vermont Academy. VA beat Choate with the greatest quarterback ever, my brother. Tim Fontaine. He led a great group of players who worked together.”

Thanks for the memory Rossi.

Any questions, opinions, or concerns about this column can be addressed by emailing bmurphy@vermontjournal.com.

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