Act 46, Vermont’s school consolidation law, gets a lot of ink on the front page of our newspaper. But it will also have an effect on matters written about on this page.
At their annual preseason meeting with the media last week in Montpelier, the Vermont Principals’ Association dropped a lot of hints that as smaller school districts merge, Division IV, the smallest classification for Vermont schools, will not be around much longer.
The VPA announced new guidelines, requiring that schools within newly-merged school districts under Act 46 must first combine athletic teams with one another before asking to form a cooperative team with another school district.
We saw something similar here a few years ago when Whitingham and Wilmington merged their high schools to form Twin Valley. Both Whitingham and Wilmington’s teams previously played in Division IV, but the combined programs now compete in Division III.
Twin Valley has enough students to field competitive teams in soccer and basketball without resorting to entering into a cooperative arrangement with another school.
Even before Act 46, cooperatives, where two small schools join together to field one sports team, were growing in popularity in Vermont. For example, Rochester and Whitcomb in central Vermont are still independent high schools, but the schools merged their soccer programs in 2013. Four years later, both schools have merged all their sports teams except for boys’ basketball into one entity, Whitchester.
Other co-op teams for the 2017-18 school year include Mount Abraham and Vergennes merging girls’ and boys’ basketball, softball, baseball and football; and BFA-Fairfax and Lamoille, Poultney and Mount St. Joseph, and U-32 and Harwood merging their baseball, softball, and girls’ and boys’ hockey teams.
Stowe and Peoples Academy and U-32 and Montpelier will field combined teams in boys’ and girls’ ice hockey, while Burlington and Colchester, North Country and Lyndon, and CVU-Mount Mansfield will have merged girls’ hockey teams.
Other co-op teams include Williamstown and Northfield in boys’ and girls’ soccer, Randolph and Chelsea in girls’ lacrosse, Northfield and Randolph in boys’ golf and Northfield and Montpelier in softball.
It was too late for Oxbow, in the upper Connecticut Valley, to form a football co-op with another school this season. Only 14 boys went out for varsity football this year, and the Division III school had to cancel the season.
Football has been problematic for the small schools. Winooski and Montpelier had to disband their programs, and Windsor has had problems in recent years dressing enough players to safely field a varsity team.
As student enrollments fall around Vermont and mergers of school districts become inevitable, smaller schools are going to have to make tough decisions about their athletic programs. Bellows Falls seems safe for now as an independent program, but it doesn’t seem far-fetched that we might see a cooperative between Twin Valley and Leland & Gray in the near future.
Field hockey not dead yet
• For as long as I have been here in Vermont writing about sports, I’ve been reading the obituaries for high school field hockey. Soccer was fast becoming the fall sport for girls, and it was just a matter of time before field hockey disappeared altogether.
Yes, many small schools in Vermont dropped field hockey in favor of soccer, but in our area, there remain coaches who have kept the flame alive and are committed to keeping field hockey as a varsity sport.
Brattleboro coaches Sherryl Libardoni and Kelly Markol and Bellows Falls coach Bethany Coursen have bucked the statewide trend and kept their respective programs going.
Coursen has had more success in recent years, thanks to a strong feeder program that starts teaching fundamentals to elementary school-age prospects so they have a head start by the time they reach the middle and high school levels. Brattleboro is also moving in that direction.
Other programs around the state that faded have returned. Six-time state champ Windsor disbanded its varsity team in 2014 due to a lack of interest. But varsity field hockey is back for 2017 at Windsor, and other schools, such as Otter Valley and Fair Haven, are reporting more players coming out.
Bellows Falls won the Division III championship for the second straight year in 2016, outscoring their opponents by a combined 21-0 margin during the Terriers’ playoff run. After an undefeated championship season, BF is moving up into Division II this year, which will make a third state title a little tougher to achieve.
Brattleboro finished last season with a 2-10-2 record, but there is hope for improvement for this season. The Colonels will open their season on Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. when they host Springfield, while BF also opens at home on Sept. 5 against Burr & Burton.
Vermont bear hunting season starts Sept. 1
• Vermont’s bear hunting season starts Sept. 1, and hunters can improve their chances if they scout ahead of time to find fall foods such as wild apples, beechnuts, acorns, and berries where bears will be feeding.
Vermont has two bear hunting seasons. The early bear hunting season, which requires a special bear tag, starts Sept. 1 and continues through Nov. 10. The late bear season begins Nov. 11 and continues through Nov. 19. A hunter may only take one bear during the year.
State bear biologist Forrest Hammond said in a news release that “fall foods for bears are more abundant than they were last year. Bears will be feeding along power lines and in forest openings and old fields where berries and apples can be found as well as in forested beech and oak stands. They also are likely to be feeding on standing corn.”
Hammond said the state has about 5,400 bears, a sharp increase from the 3,000 or so bears in Vermont in the early 1990s.
“Although we have successfully increased bear numbers, the human population has also risen, resulting in more encounters between humans and bears,” said Hammond.
Bears have gotten more active and more brazen in raiding bird feeders, garbage cans, and compost piles around the state. Once a bear develops a taste for these delicacies, they become repeat visitors to the backyards of Vermonters.
That’s why securing your trash, keeping meat and cheese out of the compost pile, taking down your bird feeders between April and November, and securing first-floor doors and windows are all good ideas if bears are spotted in your neighborhood.
Hunters took 697 bears last year in 193 Vermont towns. Hammond asks hunters in southern Vermont to avoid shooting bears with yellow ear tags and GPS collars, because they are valuable animals in the Deerfield Wind bear study.
Also, Hammond said that state regulations now require hunters “to collect and turn in a small pre-molar tooth from each harvested bear. The collection of a premolar tooth is critical to the bear project as it provides important data on the age structure of the bear population and for making population estimates.”
A video showing how to remove the tooth is on the Fish & Wildlife website at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
Rec. Dept. offers fall sports programs
• The Brattleboro Recreation & Parks Department will hold a co-ed youth soccer program this fall for grades 1 through 6.
The techniques of dribbling, passing and shooting will be taught, and each child will have the opportunity to use these skills in team games. There will be one practice per week and at least one game per week. The program will be organized in separate groups: grades 1-2, grades 3-4, and grades 5-6.
Practices will start the week of Sept. 11, and run through the end of October. Registration will be held on Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 30 and Aug. 31, from 1 to 6 p.m., at the Gibson-Aiken Center, 207 Main St. The fee is $30 for Brattleboro residents and $45 for non-residents. This fee includes a tee shirt.
Volunteer coaches are needed. Call the Recreation & Parks Department for information if you are interested in coaching.
• The first fall session of gymnastics classes will begin the week of Sept. 5 at the Gibson-Aiken Center. Classes will run for an eight-week session, ending on Oct. 30. The cost for an 8-week program will be $80 for Brattleboro residents and $95 for non-residents. Late registrations will be pro-rated.
Classes are run Mondays through Saturdays for ages 18 months and up. Pick up a copy of the Rec. Dept.’s Fall Activities Flyer for a complete listing of class times. Amanda Montgomery will direct the Gymnastics Program.
There is also an Open Gym time available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10-11 a.m. for ages 1 to 5 with a parent for $5 and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for ages 6 to 17 for $10.
• The Recreation & Parks Department will offer a girls youth field hockey program for grades 3 through 6, beginning Sept. 5. All levels and abilities are welcome. Skills will be taught and games will be played with other towns if there are enough participants. Practices will be held at the West River Park Multipurpose Field on Route 30 on Tuesdays from 5 to 6 p.m.
Registration will be held Aug. 30 and 31 from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Gibson-Aiken Center. The cost is $30 for Brattleboro residents and $45 for non-residents. Field hockey sticks are supplied by the Recreation & Parks Department, all players must have shin guard and mouthpieces.
• For more information on these or other activities, or if any special needs are required, call the Recreation & Parks Department at 802-254-5808. You can find a complete listing/description of events at www.brattleboro.org, or go to their Facebook page.
Senior bowling roundup
• With just one week to go in the spring/summer season of the Brattleboro Senior Bowling League, Team 4 (62-23) has clinched the season championship. Second place Team 8 (51-34) is now just three games ahead of third place Team 1 (48-47). Team 5 (40-45) has dropped to fourth, followed by Team 7 (38-47), Team 3 (36-49), Team 2 (33-42), and Team 6 (32-53).
Catching up on Week 16 action, Jean Collins had the women’s high handicap game (273), while Sally Perry (704) had the high handicap series. Fred Ashworth had the men’s high handicap game (275) and series (700). Team 2 had the high team handicap game (921) and Team 2 had the high handicap series (2,529).
Collins (206) was the first female bowler in the current league season to have a 200-plus game. She was joined by Ashworth (244), Warren Corriveau Sr. (201), and Wayne Randall (233).
Ashworth (607) rolled a 600-plus series, and Corriveau (556), Jerry Dunham (501), and Wayne Randall (531) all rolled a 500-plus series.
In Week 17, Doris Lake had the women’s high handicap game (243), while Jeanne Czuy (645) had the high handicap series. Don Powers had the men’s high handicap game (243) and series (687). Team 4 had the high team handicap game (883) and series (2,541).
Six men rolled a 500-plus series: Ashworth (565), Corriveau (522), Dunham (554), Randall (517), Peter Cross (510), and Marty Adams (582). Adams had a pair of 200-plus games (208, 204), he was joined by Corriveau (225) and Ashworth (203).
Forest Service wants input on fees
• The Green Mountain National Forest is interested in hearing your comments on its proposed new fee at Grout Pond Campground in Stratton. The U.S. Forest Service says that the recreation fee revenue would be used to provide services and improve the site.
Grout Pond Recreation Area has 17 lakefront campsites located around a beautiful large lake. The Forest Service is proposing a new fee of $16 per night per site per vehicle with a $5 additional fee for a second vehicle.
The Forest Service says several recent improvements have been made to the Grout Pond Recreation Area, such as fire rings; more frequent mowing and restroom maintenance; bridge work, and repairs to the trail network. The campground experiences numerous erosion issues due to extremely wet areas in trails and at campsites.
The proposed new fee would help to improve the services and facilities. Planned improvements include adding trash containers along with bear-proof dumpsters, new toilets, a new access road, new boat launch, two new group use sites, new picnic tables, informational kiosks, new compost boardwalks to improve the surrounding trail network, and interpretive signage.
The Forest Service is seeking public input on the fee proposal. Comments may be sent to Emily Lauderdale, Green Mountain National Forest, 2538 Depot St., Manchester, VT 05255. Comments will be taken until Oct. 11.