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Randolph T. Holhut/Commons file photo

Masked members of the Brattleboro Colonels field hockey team walk toward the entry gate to Tenney Field before a game against Fair Haven on Sept. 26, 2020. For now, fall participants in high school sports in Vermont will not have to wear facial covering while playing.

Sports

How soon will normal come?

As a third school year touched by COVID-19 begins, it’s time to think about the impact of the pandemic on students

Randolph T. Holhut, deputy editor of this newspaper, has written this column for more than a decade and has covered sports in Windham County since the 1980s. Readers can send him sports information at news@commonsnews.org.

The Vermont Principals’ Association had their annual media day last week in Montpelier to outline what will be happening in high school sports in the 2022-22 school year.

Mixed in with the announcements regarding when and where championship games will be played was a topic rarely discussed by the VPA — the mental health of student-athletes.

“It’s a significant issue and especially big with COVID,” VPA Associate Executive Director Bob Johnson told the Rutland Herald. “We’re putting plans in place. We want to make sure that kids have healthy things to do.”

We are entering our third school year in Vermont that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is something that has taken a definite toll on the students who have had to play under very different circumstances.

In March 2020, the state shut down schools due to the growing seriousness of the pandemic, and did so just as the basketball and hockey playoffs for the 2019-20 season were finishing. Schools moved to remote learning for the remainder of the school year and the spring sports season was canceled.

In the fall of 2020, the sports season started late and ended up being abbreviated. Players were masked, fan access to games was limited, and there were no school bands. An “arrive-play-leave” policy for players was introduced, with no hanging out before or after practices, no pre-game team dinners, and no team activities outside of the games themselves.

Remote learning continued at many schools as the second wave of the pandemic unfolded at what would’ve been the start of the 2020-21 winter season last December. That season too started late and was drastically altered, as hockey and basketball games were played in empty venues and schools tried to prevent outbreaks among students and staff.

In the end, both the hockey and basketball playoffs were disrupted by the virus and there was doubt the spring season would be played as scheduled. Thankfully, the virus receded somewhat in Vermont during the spring as more Vermonters got vaccinated, and student-athletes were able to take the masks off and have something close to a normal season.

Now, a new school year with in-person learning is about to begin. However, the long shadow of the Delta variant of COVID-19, a more virulent version of the coronavirus that is spreading through the state, hangs over everything.

Windham County is not as hard hit as the northern counties of Vermont right now, but students will be starting the school year wearing masks indoors while they wonder if another year of extracurricular activities is going get blown up by COVID-19.

For now, student-athletes participating in outdoor sports such as football, soccer, field hockey, and cross-country will be able to play without facial coverings, and there are no limits on how many fans can attend games in outdoor venues.

The caveat is that all this could change quickly.

“If somebody was to ask me what [the VPA] learned, we learned, No. 1, that schools are incredibly resilient,” Johnson said. “They were changing things on the fly, in terms of their games and schedules. The second thing that we learned is that everything can change in one hour, whether it was mandates coming down from the state of Vermont [or] a COVID situation within a school.”

This generation of young people in Vermont has been through a lot since March 2020. So many things were taken away from them, or were drastically changed by the virus. And we have no idea how this experience is going to affect them going forward.

Resilience is a word that has been thrown around a lot since the start of this pandemic. The students in our local schools need our support and understanding, in the classroom and on the fields of play. They need to know we, as adults, won’t let them down when they need help.

We are not done with COVID-19 yet. I’ll leave the recriminations about why this is so to the folks writing in the Voices section.

But I will say if you haven’t gotten your vaccine yet, do it now, and if you are a parent with children under age 12, get them vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. The vaccines are safe, and they do work. Don’t take my word for it, go to healthvermont.gov or talk to a healthcare professional you trust.

And remember Dr. Mark Levine’s mantra from the beginning of this year — masks on faces, six-foot spaces, uncrowded spaces. In other words, wear a mask if you are in a public space, keep up the social distancing, and avoid being in big crowds with people who are unmasked and not distancing.

Let’s be careful out there, so we have a good start to the fall season and the kids can get to enjoy the fun times they deserve.

Championship venues set

• The VPA has set the schedules for the respective championships for high school athletics.

Once again, Rutland High School will host the football championship games at Alumni Field on Nov. 13, with a tripleheader day of title games.

The state cross-country championships will take place at Thetford Academy on Oct. 30.

Girls’ and boys’ soccer will play their championship games on Nov. 6. It’s still a bit up in the air, but it is expected that Division I will play at Burlington High School, Division II at South Burlington High School, Division III in White River Junction, and Division IV at Applejack Stadium in Manchester.

The field hockey finals will be played at the University of Vermont on Nov. 6, but that is contingent on whether the UVM field hockey team will be the NCAA playoffs that weekend.

UVM will also be hosting the boys’ and girls’ ice hockey championships, with the girl’s games on March 7, 2021 and the boys’ games on March 9.

In basketball, the Division I boys’ and girls’ championship games will be at UVM in March, while the other three divisions will play at the Barre Auditorium. The date and venue for the state bowling championship is still to be determined.

As for the spring sports, baseball will have its title games at UVM’s Centennial Field, while softball will return to Castleton University. Both will be played on the weekend of June 10-11.

Venues for track and field and Ultimate disc are still to be determined. Ultimate will have its championships on June 9-10, while the state championship track meets are set for June 4 for all four divisions.

Golf tourney benefits Post 5 Baseball

• The Brattleboro Post 5 American Legion Baseball team had another great year, finishing as runner-up to Essex for the state championship. But the Post 5 baseball program also includes three other youth baseball teams that play in leagues in Western Massachusetts.

For those who say baseball is dying as a sport in Vermont, let them come to Brattleboro. This summer, there were 60 players on the four Post 5 Baseball-sponsored teams, plus a robust Brattleboro Little League Baseball program.

Brattleboro is still a baseball town, and the teams at all levels see plenty of fan support. But fielding these teams isn’t easy, nor is it cheap.

The 60 players on the Post 5 teams each kick in $100 to play each summer, but that doesn’t begin to cover the cost of insurance, league fees, umpires, and baseballs. To help cover the estimated $20,000 cost of fielding these four teams, Post 5 coach Eric Libardoni and his staff have to do a lot of fundraising.

Their biggest fundraiser comes on Sept. 5 at the Brattleboro Country Club, when Post 5 Baseball hosts its annual golf tournament. The entry fee is $100, and includes dinner at American Legion Post 5 on Linden Street after the tournament. All proceeds go toward the baseball program.

There’s still time to sign up, sponsor a hole, sponsor a prize for the event, or donate an item to be raffled off. Contact Libardoni at 802-380-1990 or Kyle Henry at 860-227-5726.

Rec. Dept. offers flag football

• The Brattleboro Recreation & Parks Department will be working with BUHS Varsity Football Coach Chad Pacheco and BUHS football players to offer NFL Flag Football for those in grades 3-6.

Players will need mouthguard (required), cleats or sneakers, jersey, and flag belt. An NFL Flag Football jersey and flags/belt are included in the program fee, which is $45 for Brattleboro residents and $60 for non-residents.

This program is open to non-experienced and experienced football players. Participants will work on basic techniques and skills to play football safely, drills, agility for both offense and defense, and play flag football games. This is a non-contact football program. Bring your own flags if you have them, otherwise they will be loaned out each day.

This program will begin Sept. 19 and run until Oct. 17. Note that this program is on Sundays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

Due to COVID-19, the Recreation & Parks Department is asking that everyone that participates in their sports programs this fall use the “Arrive-Play-Leave” approach. This means arriving no earlier than 15 minutes before the practice/game time, and once the practice/game is over, they ask that participants do not congregate or socialize after.

The standard COVID-19 prevention guidelines should also be followed: stay home if you are sick, physicallly distance when possible, use good hygiene, and wear a mask, especially if you are still unvaccinated.

For more information, call the Recreation & Parks Department office at the Gibson-Aiken Center at 802-254-5808, visit their website at www.brattleboro.org, and follow them on Facebook at “Brattleboro Recreation and Parks Department,” and on Instagram at “brattleboro_recandparks.”

Senior bowling roundup

• With one week remaining in the spring/summer season of the Brattleboro Senior Bowling League at Brattleboro Bowl, there is a new team in first place.

Team 6 (54-31), which had a 4-1 week, moved into the top spot after Week 17 play on Aug. 19. Team 2 (53–32) had its third straight 1-4 week and fell into second place for the first time since the season began. Team 4 (45.5-39.5) dropped into third place, followed by Team 7 (45-40), Team 5 (44-41), Team 1 (40.5-44.5), and Team 3 (34-51).

Pat Bentrup had the women’s high handicap game (262) and series (669). Marty Adams had the men’s high handicap game (269), while Don Powers had the high handicap series (665). Team 6 had the high team handicap game (869) and series (2,463).

In scratch scoring, Robert Rigby led the men with a 621 series that featured games of 228 and 227. Chuck Adams had a 198 game as part of his 572 series, while Warren Corriveau Sr. had a 192 game as part of his 535 series, and Marty Adams had a 512 series with a 233 game. Les Wigdor rolled a 192 game and Al Dascomb had a 190 game.

Bentrup had the high scratch game (193), while Nancy Dalzell rolled a pair of 174 games to finish with a high scratch series of 513 to lead the women. Debbie Kolpa had a 177 game, while Carole Frizzell rolled games of 177 and 170.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #627 (Wednesday, August 25, 2021). This story appeared on page D4.

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