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Ellis cracks Top 50 at New England cross country meet

Brattleboro’s Jacob Ellis capped off a splendid season as the Colonels’ top cross country athlete with a 47th place finish on Nov. 13 at the 76th annual New England Cross Country Championships, held this year at Thetford Academy.

Ellis,  a junior who qualified for this meet for the third straight year with a sixth-place finish in the Vermont State Championships, hoped to improve upon his time of 18 minutes, 4 seconds that he ran two weeks earlier on a muddy 3.1 mile course in Thetford.

The Thetford course, which only has a 350-yard front stretch before it narrows into a 12-foot-wide footpath, puts a premium on starting clean and fast from the line and establishing one’s position early before heading into the woods.

Ellis got as high as 25th place after the first mile, but tired over the remainder of the course. He finished in 17:48, just barely holding off North Country’s Joe Bourgeois at the finish line to be the third fastest Vermont runner in the boys race.

Ellis was the only local competitor in the event, but Vermont runners had some other great performances, led by the Champlain Valley Union girls. CVU placed four runners in the top 32 to give the Division I champs their second New England title in an eight-year span.

Richford’s Elle Purrier, a sophomore, was the top Vermont girl in the race with a fourth place finish in 19.44. Colchester’s Brendan Copley, a junior, finished 13th in 17:12.

There were 255 finishers in the girls race, and 264 finishers in the boys race.

Shrine game returns to Windsor

Football fans who have been waiting for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl to return to Dartmouth’s Memorial Field will have to wait a bit longer.

The Shrine Bowl’s board of governors recently announced that the 2011 game, brings together the finest high school football players in Vermont and New Hampshire, will be played at Windsor High School’s MacLeay-Royce Field for the third year in a row. The 2011 game will be played on Saturday, Aug. 6.

Renovations at Memorial Field forced the 2009 game to be moved to Windsor, and the slow pace of those renovations forced the 2010 game to be played in Windsor. Dartmouth’s continued financial woes have pushed the project to the back burner, and both the Shriners and the college have no idea when, or if, the game will return to Memorial Field.

 Dartmouth had been home to the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl from 1958 to 2008, with of 1967 when the game was played at the University of Vermont, 1968 at the University of New Hampshire and 2006 at Plymouth State University. All three moves were the result of other stadium renovations.

Windsor has been a good host, however. Since the game is one of the primary fundraisers for the Shriners hospitals in Boston and Springfield, Mass., and in Montreal, a good gate is important. Shine officials say the 2010 game was a financial success, which may have been the main argument for keeping the game at MacLeay-Royce Field.

While there are those who think the game deserves to be played at a college facility, the reality is there is no centrally located college stadium that would satisfy either state’s fan base. Castleton State’s Spartan Stadium, this year’s site for Vermont’s high school championship games, is too far away for New Hampshire fans. Playing the game at UNH or Plymouth State would draw squawks from Vermont fans.

That’s why the Shrine game has been at Dartmouth. It’s centrally located and gives the game a big-time feel that no other venue can offer. Shrine officials haven’t ruled out a return to Memorial Field in 2012, but here’s hoping they do.

Small schools see benefits of cooperation

Enrollments are falling at schools across Vermont. According to the Vermont Deparment of Education, school enrollment has declined by 14.2 percent since 1997, and fewer students means fewer athletic opportunities.

The Vermont Principals’ Association has offered a couple of ways for schools to deal with this problem. One option offered by the VPA is called a member-to-member agreement, where a student who wants to play a sport that is not offered by his or her school can join another school’s program.

The other option is cooperative teams, where two or more schools agree to share costs and responsibilities for running a sports program.

The Burlington Free Press reported this week that more schools around Vermont are turning to these two options. According to the National Federation of State High Schools Associations, participation in high school athletics has dropped more than 30 percent since the 2002-03 school year, and that trend is not expected to change soon.

Enosburg and Richford formed a co-op wrestling team last year. Mount Abraham and Vergennes formed a co-op football team this season. And U-32 and Harwood just got approval from the VPA to form co-op wrestling and football teams.

Southern Vermont schools haven’t tried the co-op solution yet, but as enrollments and athletic participation drop, this option will surely be considered as a way to pool resources and still offer opportunities to students who want to play sports.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #77 (Wednesday, November 24, 2010).

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