THIS + THAT: Welcome Leland and Gray

A new town/school moved into our area. No, let me rephrase that. We moved into some new towns and one new school. Leland and Gray High School is now in our reporting area. Just one year before we lose Black River as a sports entity, we pull in some Rebels with a cause.

For anyone not up on their sports’ nicknames, Leland and Gray teams are the Rebels. They also have more sports history than many in these parts realize. They have been partially in some of our conscious in one way or another. They have been an opponent of both Green Mountain and Black River for years and in some sports. In some years, they have been a big rival of Green Mountain.

Like the Chieftains, the Rebels are a Division III school, and both teams are in the middle of the baseball race in that division this spring. Chieftains are the second seed and the Rebels are the fifth. There may be three spaces difference in the seedings, but they split a pair of games during the season.

Leland and Gray’s Patrick McDonald is a running threat in last week’s game versus Green Mountain. Chieftain Sawyer Pippin takes the throw. The Rebels opened their 2018 play-offs Tuesday in a home contest with Hazen. If things go according to the seeds, Leland and Gray would head to Peoples Academy Friday at 4:30 p.m. for a quarterfinal encounter. Photo by Doug MacPhee.

Leland and Gray handed Green Mountain their only defeat this year 12-2. The two teams met for a second time last Friday, and the Chieftains captured the Marble Valley League Class C title by winning 5-3. They are definitely rivals this spring.

Athletic Director Marty Testo is the Rebel baseball coach this spring. He was in the right place at the right time when former coach Eric Durocher had to step aside because of a job promotion. Testo has an extensive baseball resume including coaching at Keene State College recently. Testo spent six summers coaching with the Keene Swampcats and their long time general manager Kevin Watterson recently told me, “Marty is the best coach/teacher of the game I have ever been associated with.” Testo has utilized those credentials in order to make sure this year’s five senior diamond players messed with some youngsters to field a strong team.

Historically, baseball has been Leland and Gray’s best sport. They were the talk of the state a decade ago when Coach Tom Russell put together a stretch of three consecutive Vermont Division III titles. The fun began in 2008 when the Rebels blitzed Poultney in the title game 11-3, after narrowly defeating Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax and Northfield 7-6 in the tight semifinals and quarterfinals respectively. The 2008 team started their post season with an 8-1 conquest of Rivendel.

The 2009 team, which had been there and done that to an extent, somewhat breezed to the finale where they had a pitching and defense thriller with Northfield 2-1. That made two one-run victories over Northfield in the tourney in back-to-back years. Green Mountain fell to the Rebels 14-4 in the semis that year after Russell’s team also made easy work of Rivendel and Twin Valley 15-0 and 9-4 in the quarters and play-in rounds respectively.

The three-peat became history when the 2010 team shutout Oxbow 8-0. Victims of the Rebels cause along the way this time around were Northfield in the semis, convincingly 19-5 this time, with Green Mountain a 4-1 win in the quarters, after a challenge from Hazen 10-9 in the opening round.

Following a first round defeat in 2011, the Rebels found their way back to the DIII semis in both 2012 and 2013. Northfield was waiting in ’12 and finally came out on top 4-3 in a close one, one step short of another final. BFA stopped the Leland and Gray nine one run short a year later 3-2 in the semi-final again. The Rebels were eliminated in the quarters in 2014, but another back –to-back semi-final run followed in 2015 and 2016, with BFA (5-0) and Windsor (3-1) the respective winners in those years, defeating Leland and Gray in those semis.

In all, Leland and Gray baseball has played in four state finals – the other was a tight 2-1 loss to Stowe in 1979 – and a total of nine semi-final appearances, seven in this century.

The Rebels’ other spring sport has had its day in the sun also. Tammy Clausen’s softballers have been to the Vermont Division III finals each of the last three odd year seasons. In 2013, 2015, and 2017, the team has played for all the marbles. The school has never won a softball title, but they have had four appearances. The fourth one was in 1991, when Leland and Gray competed in two one-run games, defeating Enosburg in the semis 9-8, before bowing to Peoples Academy 6-5 in the final. The school has advanced to six semi-finals in their history.

Clausen has built quite a program in recent years. When her teams began to come on the scene, an old friend of hers stood in the way. Tammy was a standout athlete at Randolph High School. When the Rebels began to create a buzz, the Galloping Ghosts stood in their way. In 2010 and 2011, Clausen’s teams advanced to the semi-finals, but each time Randolph eliminated them, 7-2 in 2011, but in a nail biter in 2010 4-3. That was also the year the Rebels bopped Bellows Falls 15-0 and Mill River 5-2 in the first two rounds respectively, before falling just short to the Ghosts. Five of the schools seven trips to the Final Four standing have come under Clausen’s tutelage.

Two other sports have recently crept into the Leland and Gray spring sports’ calendar. Track and field and ultimate disc have teams. Some think of ultimate disc as ultimate frisbee. Unified basketball has been a recent program addition in the winter.

The Rebel teams with the next most state titles are the boys’ basketball team and the girls’ soccer team.

The boys’ titles were captured 11 years apart in 1988 and 1977. Most recently, the Rebels boys hoop team made an exciting run in 2011 before being eliminated by Winooski 49-40 in the semi-finals. They opened tourney play that winter with a triumph over Lake Region 66-41 in a season they collected a 16-4 record. Back in 2003, Leland and Gray reached the finals – the only other appearance in school history – by turning back United Christian 74-49, Peoples 70-54, and Green Mountain (semis) 87-71 to reach the final, where they were denied by Arlington 59-50.

The first of the two Rebel title teams in 1977 finished with a 16-4 regular season record. They disposed of Rochester 69-43 in their opening post season game and then rode the express to and through the title game with 76-64 victory over Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax in the quarterfinals, an 87-75 win over Blue Mountain in the semis, and then their first school title with a 61-54 erasing of West Rutland in the title game. Mike Lynn, who played an important role on two NCAA basketball titles teams at UCLA, and spent a couple of seasons in the NBA, coached that team and one of his standout players from that squad, Peter Boyle, coached 11 years later, when the Rebels captured their second title.

In that year, (1988), the quarterfinals was the Rebels first post season contest and Arlington was their victim 66-50. The Barre semi-final match-up saw them turn back Williamstown 63-58 in their closest tourney contest. Westside was once again the opponent waiting to meet the Rebels in the finals and this time, the Rebels wouldn’t allow the game to be close, prevailing 86-60. Some members of the 1988 title team had knocked on the door the year before, before losing a heartbreaker to Enosburg in the semi-final 69-68.

The girls’ soccer program has appeared in two finals, winning the two crowns mentioned coming in back-to-back years. They defeated Enosburg 1-0 in 1990 and Black River was their opponent in 1991 when the Rebels came out on top 4-1. The only recent strong team they have had was in 2016, when the best Rebel girls’ soccer team in years advanced to the semis, before bowing to Thetford 4-1. The program has eight semi-final trips in their history.

Rebel boys soccer captured their only title in 2010. They have reached three title games in the school’s existence. The 2010 team performing under the direction of long time coach Chris Barton, won a couple of nail biters 2-1 over Stowe in the semis and BFA of Fairfax in the finale to come home with the top prize. The other two title appearances were in 2005, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Twin Valley, and again in a couple of years prior to that 2003, when Northfield defeated them 5-2. The program had some strong girls’ soccer athletes during that time because they almost reached three title games in a row, falling in the in between year (2004) in the semis to Northfield 4-2. Barton’s teams were a combined 33-6-3 in that three-year period, quite a showing.

I contacted Leland and Gray Principal Bob Thibault, who I first met years ago when he did a fine job putting out some good Leland and Gray boys’ basketball teams as a coach, and he is well vested in the school. He taught in Townshend for a while, became an administrator and moved along, but has come home again in a leadership position. Thibault relayed to me that he believes “athletics and other co-curriculars play an important role in the education of our students, and as such, Rebel Nation is very much engaged in supporting our athletes in all domains.”

Today, we have passed along a little Rebel history to one and all. I hope to be able to keep reporting about some future Rebel teams as the years move forward. I welcome Rebel nation aboard our column’s journey.

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