At its annual end-of-season meeting on Nov. 24 at Hartford High School, the Vermont Interscholastic Football League (VIFL) met to discuss the subject that causes more hard feelings than anything else it deals with — realignment of the state’s three high school football divisions.
A plan was approved to divide the 33 schools that play varsity football into three divisions of 11 teams. Using a formula based on total male enrollment, the number of boys going out for football, and the win-loss percentage for the past four seasons, VIFL arrived at these three divisions, ranked top to bottom:
Division I: Essex, BFA-St. Albans, Champlain Valley, Rutland, South Burlington, Middlebury, Hartford, St. Johnsbury, Colchester, Burlington, and Rice Memorial.
Division II: Bellows Falls, Mount Anthony, Burr & Burton, Mount Abraham, North Country, Brattleboro, Lyndon Institute, Mount Mansfield, Milton, Fair Haven, and BFA-Fairfax.
Division III: Spaulding, Mill River, Woodstock, U-32, Otter Valley, Oxbow, Windsor, Springfield, Poultney, Winooski, and Mount St. Joseph.
This alignment plan is subject to approval of the Vermont Principals Association’s Active Standards Committee at its next scheduled meeting, Dec. 10. Schools can petition to move up or down.
The biggest surprise is Brattleboro and Mount Anthony dropping down to Division II.
Both teams have struggled in recent years in Division I, and it is probably time for both programs to bow to the inevitable and accept that they are unable to compete against the big schools in Chittenden County, such as Champlain Valley, Essex, Colchester, and South Burlington.
Mount Anthony has made it clear they want to stay in Division I, but even though they have one of the largest school districts in the state, they have had a hard time getting players. Out of the 507 boys at MAU, only 51 play football. That, and their 7-28 record over the past four years, ensured they would drop down.
Since 1970, Brattleboro has won one state championship — in 1973 — and played in the championship game in 1978 and 1981. Since 1990, the Colonels have been semifinalists in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2006.
Now Division I becomes a strictly northern division, with Rutland and Hartford as the southernmost schools. Mount Mansfield also drops down to Division II.
Spaulding drops down to Division III. Although they have the 11th-highest male school population in Vermont at 403, its teams compiled a 2-34 record over the past four years.
BFA-Fairfax (this year’s Division III champ) and Mount Abraham are moving up to Division II.
Bellows Falls, still the smallest school in Division II with 185 male students, is staying put. In Brattleboro and Mount Anthony, BF gains two division rivals in the south.
The Terriers are happy that Rice, the three-time defending Division II champs, is moving up to Division I. Rice has a record of 35-6 over the past four years.
The downside for Brattleboro and MAU is that they lose traditional rivals such as Rutland and Hartford, trading them for long bus rides to the farthest reaches of Vermont — Newport (North Country), Milton, Lyndon, Jericho (Mount Mansfield), Fairfax (BFA-Fairfax), and Bristol (Mount Abraham).
Only Bellows Falls, Manchester (Burr & Burton), and Fair Haven are easy trips for Brattleboro and MAU in the new Division II.
The goal of creating three divisions of 11 teams each is that the top eight teams would make the playoffs. This would eliminate the meaningless “ninth game” between the also-ran teams in Division I that didn’t qualify for the playoffs — a game that Brattleboro has found itself in for the past two seasons.
BUHS seeks new football coach
• After three wins in two seasons, the John Callahan era has ended for the Brattleboro Colonels varsity football team.
BUHS athletic director Chris Sawyer announced Callahan’s resignation last week, ending what could charitably called a failed experiment to bring the triple-option offense to a team that was physically incapable of running it.
In nearly four decades of coaching football, Callahan has made stops in Louisiana, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. In Vermont, he coached at Mount St. Joseph, bringing MSJ a Division I championship in 2005. He had winning seasons at Mount Anthony in 2008 and 2009, but wasn’t as successful at Spaulding High School in Barre in 2010 and 2011.
Despite his reputation as a fix-it man for ailing football programs, he could not improve the Colonels’ fortunes.
The triple option — used in the past by Alabama and Oklahoma, and used today by Navy — is an offense where the quarterback has three choices when the ball is snapped. He can hand off to the fullback, pitch it to the tailback, or keep it and run it himself.
It’s a fairly complex system that requires agility, quick thinking, and good blocking to work well. It worked for Callahan at MAU and MSJ but failed in Brattleboro, as the Colonels were 2-7 in his first season in 2013 and 1-8 this year.
Callahan’s successor will inherit a team that graduates only seven seniors, and a mandate to make Colonels football matter again.
New gym for Twin Valley
• When Whitingham and Wilmington merged their high schools to form Twin Valley High School in 2004, the newly-created Wildcats played their varsity basketball games in Wilmington.
The cramped, dim little gym on Beaver Street, with wooden bleachers on one side and a concrete wall on the other, was an undeniable home-court advantage for Twin Valley. But it marked an improvement over the old Whitingham gym, with its slippery linoleum floor.
Now that the Twin Valley Middle/High School is settling into the old Whitingham School, the basketball program will enjoy a spacious new gymnasium that will see its first varsity games on Dec. 8.
There are lots of memories in the old gym in Wilmington, but Wildcat fans are going to love the new digs up on the hill in Whitingham.
The new gym seats 325 and has room to expand. The team benches will be on the other side of the court, so players won’t have to sit in the bleachers with the fans as they had to in Wilmington.
There’s a large mezzanine with weights and other exercise equipment. The locker rooms are larger, there’s a new concession stand, and the referees finally get their own changing room.
By all accounts, the Twin Valley students love having a modern facility for physical education classes during the day and basketball at night. And the rest of the Marble Valley League will be envious of the new Wildcat Den this winter.
Vermont PBS to air ‘Brothers of The Gut’ documentary
• To mark the 50th anniversary of the University of Vermont men’s ice hockey program, Vermont PBS has produced “Brothers of The Gut: 50 Years of UVM Hockey,” a new film that explores the program’s rich history and talented players, and Gutterson Field House, the home of UVM hockey.
The highly anticipated film premieres on air and online Thursday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m., with an immediate rebroadcast at 10. Additional airings are scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m., on Vermont PBS’ main channel, and Sunday, Dec. 7, at 3 and 8 p.m., on Vermont PBS PLUS.
The film covers the men’s hockey program from its beginnings in 1963 as a Division II team to its current era as an NCAA Division I contender. This era has produced some celebrated talent, including players who went on to successful National Hockey League careers, such as John LeClair (’91), Martin St. Louis (’97), Eric Perrin (’97), Tim Thomas (’97) and Patrick Sharp (’02).
“Brothers of The Gut” chronicles the team’s highs and lows, including a hazing scandal that ended the 2000 season abruptly, and the team’s two dramatic appearances in the NCAA “Frozen Four” tournament.
With the talk heating up about replacing “The Gut” — the nickname for Gutterson Field House — with a more modern arena, fans of the Catamounts will at least have a nice time capsule of memories before the move takes place.
Turkey Trot goes on
• Despite a big snowstorm the day before, the Red Clover Rovers held their annual three-mile Turkey Trot race on Thanksgiving morning on Upper Dummerston Road in Brattleboro.
This year’s race was not officially timed: race organizers put a digital timer at the finish line so everyone could see how fast they ran. At 17:52, Bob Parks of Brattleboro was the unofficial men’s winner of the three-mile race.