When I last wrote in this space in the first week of January, it looked like Vermont’s winter high school sports season was about to begin. Games were scheduled and the students were champing at the bit to get started.
But the COVID-19 pandemic hit Vermont hard in January and made hash out of everyone’s plans. The only student-athletes to escape unscathed were the skiers and snowboarders.
While Vermont’s basketball and hockey players have had to wait another month for the state to give a green light for interscholastic competition, the alpine and nordic skiers and the snowboarders have been able to stage meets.
The Brattleboro nordic teams have had two meets so far this season — a 5-kilometer classic race at Prospect Mountain in Woodford on Jan. 27, and a 2.5-kilometer skating race on the Brattleboro Outing Club’s trails at the Brattleboro Country Club on Feb. 3.
I was at the Feb. 3 race, which was held just after a storm that left about eight inches of snow on the BOC’s trails. As a result, the groomed course was softer than usual. That made it harder to skate upon, compared to the usual hard-packed trails that this type of race is run on.
Otherwise, conditions were pretty good for the first week of February — cloudy with temperatures in the low 30s and a slight breeze from the northwest — and the 74 boys and girls who showed up did a good job following the required health guidelines.
There were a few COVID-19 changes to nordic competition this season. There are no mass starts for races. Instead, skiers are sent out at 30-second intervals. Skiers have to be masked at the starting line, but can remove the masks as soon as the race begins.
The Brattleboro girls had no problems on the BOC course, as they narrowly edged Mount Anthony, 18-21, to win the meet. Burr & Burton was third with 59 points.
Mount Anthony’s Maggie Payne was first in 17 minutes, 36 seconds, but the Colonel girls placed six skiers in the top 10 to clinch the victory. Katherine Normandeau was second in 19:22, followed by teammates Sylvie Normandeau (third,19:38), Hazel Wagner (sixth, 20:41), Alina Secrest (seventh, 20:58), CC Allembert (eighth, 21:09), and Ava Whitney (10th, 21:21).
The Brattleboro boys were second to Mount Anthony in their meet. The Patriots had three skiers in the top five to win with 14 points. The Colonels placed four skiers in the top 10 to finish with 25 points. Rutland was third with 48 points and Burr & Burton was fourth with 59.
For the second straight week, Twin Valley’s Luke Rizio was the winner, covering the course in 14:48. The week before, in the classic race at Prospect, Rizio won in 17:21.
Leading the Colonel boys were Nolan Holmes (fifth, 15:54), Tenzin Mathes (sixth, 16:11) Sam Freitas-Eagan, (eighth, 16:37), and Magnus vonKrusenstiern (10th, 16:48).
At Prospect, the Brattleboro boys also finished second to Mount Anthony. The Colonels’ top skiers were Holmes (fifth, 18:26), Mathes (sixth, 18:49), vonKrusenstiern (eighth, 19:25), and Noah Hed (17th, 22:25).
Mount Anthony narrowly beat Brattleboro in the girls’ meet at Prospect. Sylvie Normandeau finished third for the Colonels in 22:43, followed by teammates Whitney (fourth, 23:53), Wagner (sixth, 24:05), and Katherine Normandeau (10th, 25:24).
As was the case last the season, the Patriots and the Colonels have the top two teams in the south and they will be battling each other for the Southern Vermont League title through the remainder of this abbreviated season.
The Colonels are set to be back in action on Feb. 10 at the Woodstock Nordic Center.
Looking ahead, the Vermont state championships are still on for March 8 and 10, with the boys competing on March 8, and the girls on March 10.
Hockey, basketball teams get OK to start play on Feb. 12
• On Feb. 5, Vermont high school basketball and hockey teams finally got the news they had been waiting for — indoor high school sports can begin interscholastic competition, starting Friday, Feb. 12.
Gov. Phil Scott and administration officials made the announcement at a COVID-19 news briefing. Vermont school and youth sports teams had been allowed to practice since Dec. 26, and were given permission for limited contact practices on Jan. 18.
“Admittedly, our approach in this area has been amongst the most cautious in the nation,” Scott said. “We believe in taking small steps forward and monitoring the data before moving further.”
According to the policies outlined on Feb. 3, no more than two games a week will be scheduled for basketball and hockey teams, and there must be three days between competitions. No spectators will be allowed at games, and players will have to abide by an “arrive, play, and leave” policy. Face masks will have to be worn by all players, coaches, officials, and support staff at games.
“We recognize that this will come as a disappointment to parents and fans of local teams, but minimizing the number of people present is essential to appropriately managing the risk associated with indoor sports events,” said Julie Moore, head of the Agency of Natural Resources, who explained the policies at the Feb. 3 briefing.
Moore said that the state’s decision to allow indoor sports to go ahead was based on contact tracing data from the current reopening phase of school sports. She said that, over the past three weeks, “while there have been close contacts identified within teams, we have not seen evidence of teammates transmitting the virus to one another.”
“It’s important to acknowledge the clear commitment by players, coaches, parents alike, that has brought us to this point,” Moore said. “This reflects strong adherence to the safety precautions established in the guidance.”
Why the delay, and what about the playoffs?
• Given that the state’s basketball and hockey players have been ready to go for several weeks, one might wonder why it was decided to wait another week before starting the games.
Vermont Principals’ Association Associate Executive Director Bob Johnson told the Rutland Herald last week that the delay was needed because of the logistics that come with scheduling games between schools.
“People don’t understand that games don’t just happen,” Johnson told the Herald. “There’s transportation, officials, lots of things that need to go. We told the governor that we needed five days.”
Johnson said he expects basketball and hockey teams will play an 8-to-10-game schedule.
As for playoffs, the VPA hopes to hold all eight basketball state championship games at the Barre Auditorium on the last weekend in March. Johnson said the historic “Aud” was a natural site to host the finals, including the Division I teams who would normally have their final at the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gymnasium.
“It’s in central Vermont. It’s a beautiful court,” Johnson said. “It’s accessible to livestreaming and accommodating to the press. It’s a known commodity and has the infrastructure in place.”
Unfortunately, there is no obvious site for Vermont’s hockey championships. “Hockey is wide open,” Johnson said. “A lot of rinks have their ice pulled by the second week of March.”
Johnson said some rinks have come forward to offer their ice, but nothing has been determined and the date is to be announced.
Rec. Dept. offers facility rentals to households
• The Brattleboro Recreation & Parks Department continues to rent the Gibson-Aiken Center Gymnasium and Red Room for an hour at a time or the Nelson Withington Skating Facility for 50 minutes to those living in your immediate household.
Come enjoy your private facility time and work on your basketball or hockey skills, scrimmage against your family members, or just skate around on the ice.
In the gymnasium, participants will have access to the basketballs, pickleball nets, Wiffle ball, kickball, and a game room with air hockey, pool, table tennis and foosball.
The fee for renting the gym is $25 per hour. Reservations must be made online at bit.ly/598-reserve-gym.
In the Red Room, you can play cornhole, set up a racecar track, practice a dance routine, do yoga, tai chi, and more! The fee is $15 per hour. Reservations must be made online at bit.ly/598-rent-red-room.
At the Nelson Withington Skating Facility, you can enjoy private ice time to skate or shoot some pucks. Participants will have access to nets, pucks, and the Shooter Tutor. The fee is $50 for 50 minutes. Reservations must be made online at bit.ly/598-rentrink.
The town accepts cash only for all rentals.
Masks are required at all times at all three facilities, and you must bring a complete roster of everyone attending from your household, including their full names and ages. Due to COVID-19, everyone in the rental group must live in the same household, and no extended family is allowed. These rules will be strongly enforced.
For all programs, events, facility information, online fillable registration forms and other resources, visit brattleboro.org. Once you are on this page, hover over the “Sport and Recreation” tab found on the blue horizontal bar. A new drop-down menu will appear with a link to “Recreation and Parks.”