The 2023 Vermont high school football season begins this weekend with Brattleboro and Bellows Falls both opening at home on Sept. 1.
The newly-renamed Brattleboro Bears host the Middlebury Tigers at Natowich Field, while one of the oldest rivalries in Vermont football - the Bellows Falls Terriers versus the Springfield Cosmos - is renewed at Hadley Field. Both games begin at 7 p.m.
This season features some significant changes in Vermont high school football with divisional shifts and the introduction of leagues, which breaks the state's 31 teams into five different leagues. Under this new system, teams play each team in their league and then fill out their schedule with non-league opponents.
Brattleboro is now in the Southern Vermont League with Burr & Burton, Hartford, Middlebury, Mount Anthony, and Rutland. Bellows Falls now plays in the Mountain League with Fair Haven, Lyndon Institute, Mount Mansfield, North Country, and U-32.
• It's been about a decade since Brattleboro has played Middlebury on the gridiron. It's the first big test of the season for the Bears after moving up to Division I this season. Last season, Middlebury lost to Champlain Valley in the Division I championship game, 24-19, while Brattleboro lost to Bellows Falls, 28-14, in the Division II semifinals.
In addition to the annual Elwell Trophy game against Mount Anthony, the Bears will see the revival of a dormant rivalry with a local foe, the Keene Blackbirds. Brattleboro and Keene first faced each other in football in 1894, but haven't played each other during the regular season since 2010. The Darrell Sawyer/KHS Boosters Trophy will be dusted off and go to the winner of this game, which will be played at Keene's Alumni Field on Friday, Sept. 22, at 6:30 p.m.
The new league alignment gives Brattleboro the opportunity to avoid a couple of long road games up north while playing strong opponents that are closer to Exit 1, such as Bellows Falls and Hartford. The Bellows Falls game will be at Hadley Field this year on Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m.
"It's an opportunity to reestablish some of those rivalries, I would say, or games that were important to our school, and will become important to our school," Brattleboro Coach Chad Pacheco told the Brattleboro Reformer earlier this year. "This is a huge challenge and I'm excited for it. If we can go and beat some of these teams, that speaks volumes about our football program. Again, we've got to put in the work and we've got to do it, but we're excited about the challenge."
• Normally Bellows Falls, the Division II runner-up last season, plays Springfield toward the end of the season in the annual game for "The Trophy." This will be the 110th meeting between these two teams in a series that started in 1894. With the new divisional system, this game got pushed up to the season opener.
Springfield - which lost in the first round of the Division III playoffs to last season's eventual champions, Windsor - has a good quarterback in junior Carson Clark. He ran the offense last season and hopes to lead the Cosmos to their first state title since 2008.
Senior tight end/linebacker Cole Moore, and senior running backs Walker James and Jesse Darrell are the team captains this season for coach Bob Lockerby's Terriers. After losing 12 players to graduation from last season's team, which lost to Mount Anthony in overtime in the 2022 title game, this year's team is said to be younger and faster, but the loss of so many veteran linemen from last year's team might have an affect on the BF running attack.
A plea for sportsmanship
• Topic A at the Vermont Principals' Association's (VPA) annual Media Day on Aug. 17 was the shortage of game officials for high school sports around the state.
How bad is it? There are only 35 people in Vermont currently certified to officiate varsity football games. This means that some games are getting moved to Thursday nights, including three games this week in northern Vermont. Also being discussed is having officiating crews work doubleheaders on Saturdays, with an afternoon game followed by a night game under the lights.
Being a football official is a demanding job. Most can put up with the low pay, the travel, and the time commitment it takes to do it, but putting up with the increased incidence of unruly and abusive behavior by spectators has become a big reason why there are fewer officials for high school games.
It's become enough of a problem that the VPA's Activities and Standards Committee, which oversees high school sports, said at the meeting that it will make the upholding of sportsmanship a point of emphasis in the coming school year.
For the past couple of seasons, a VPA code of conduct is read to coaches, players, and spectators before the start of every game to remind everyone of the requirement to behave in a positive and respectful manner, and that any violation of this code on the field or in the stands can result in game stoppages, ejection of offenders, and/or forfeits.
That it has come to the point where this code, which can boiled down to a simple admonition to not be a jerk, has to be read before every game is not a good thing. But that's where we're now at as a society, where jerky behavior is not just tolerated, but celebrated in popular culture.
Seven Days reported that the VPA recently released a 5 1/2-minute video on what sportsmanship means and encouraging better behavior by everyone involved in school sports. It was distributed to athletic directors to all 79 of the VPA's member schools and it has in turn been shared on social media.
The video can be viewed at www.vermontthirdspace.org/video-page, and I highly recommend that anyone associated with high school athletics - especially the adults - watch it and take to heart the words of VPA Assistant Director Lauren Thomas, who says in the video that "our adults need to be better and model good behavior, or we're just not going to have sports."
Koch wins Southern Vermont Decathlon
• A pair of Bates College graduates finished first and second in the men's competition at the 13th annual Southern Vermont Decathlon in Weathersfield on Aug. 20.
Brattleboro's Evan Koch, who became the youngest Southern Vermont Decathlon champion in 2017 at 16 years old, won all six of the running and jumping events to set the total score record of 8,805 points and capture his second title.
Koch, an honor student who graduated from Bates this year with a degree in neuroscience, broke the old scoring mark of 8,755 points set by former University of Vermont decathlete D.J. Snide of Grafton in 2019.
Koch's former teammate at Bates, Liam Evans, nearly broke Snide's scoring record as well by finishing second with 8,705 points.
Evans, an honor student from Sauquoit, New York who graduated from Bates in 2022, was the decathlon champion at the 2022 New England Division III College Championships. He set an event record in discus with a throw of 149 feet, 5 inches and also won shot put and the vortex football throw.
Three-time defending champion Brian Lashway of Charlestown, New Hampshire finished in third with 7,404 points. It was the 12th time that Lashway, who went into the Southern Vermont Decathlon Hall of Fame last year, finished in the top three.
On the women's side, Jess Curtis of Springfield was the only competitor in winning her third championship. She also broke her own record in discus with a throw of 89 feet, 9 inches.
The top five in the overall men's standings was rounded out by Shane Mas (6,382) and Dan Barile (4,484).
The closest finish was in the 100-meter dash, as Koch finished in 12.22 seconds, just 0.11 seconds head of Evans. Lashway came in third at 13.88 seconds. Koch also took first in the 110-meter low hurdles in 14.46 seconds. Evans was second in 15.83 seconds and Lashway finished in 17.53.
In the 400, Koch won in 56.06, beating out Evans' time of 57.57. Lashway was third in 1:06.77. The mile run saw Koch finishing in 5:33.23. Evans came second in 5:57.81 and Lashway was third in 6:11.92.
In the field events, Koch won the long jump with a jump of 19 feet, 10 inches. Evans was second at 17 feet and Lashway was third at 15-06. Koch took first in the vertical jump with a mark of 28 feet, 5 inches. Evans was second at 24 feet and Mas was third at 22-05.
Evans won the shot put with a toss of 46-08 with Koch second at 43-05.5 and Lashway third at 39-05. Evans was tops in discus with his toss of 149-05. Lashway was second at 124-08 and Koch was third at 108-05. Evans won the vortex football throw with a toss of 192 feet. Mas was second at 171-01 and Koch was third at 165-10. Lashway's only win came in the keg toss with a throw of 28-11. Koch was second at 28-05.5 and Evans was third at 28-01.
Tickets still available for BHS/BUHS Hall of Fame banquet
• The induction banquet for the Class of 2023 Inductees to the Brattleboro High School/Brattleboro Union High School Athletic Hall of Fame will be held on Oct. 28, at 6 p.m., at American Legion Post 5 on Linden Street.
Tickets are $35 per person. There will be tables of 8 or 6 if you want to come in a group to support an inductee. Mail ticket requests, along with payment, to: BHS/BUHS Athletic Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 8018, Brattleboro, VT 05304-8018. Include the following information with your request - whether you want to reserve a table(s), names the people who will be sitting at your table(s), and the names of the student, athlete, or team you are supporting.
Be sure to put an email address in your ticket request so the Hall of Fame can notify you via email to confirm your ticket payment/reservation request. Inductees are given three complimentary tickets to be used at the inductees' discretion. Ticket payments and reservations must be submitted by Oct. 1.
Senior bowling roundup
• With one week left in the spring/summer season of the Brattleboro Senior Bowling League at Brattleboro Bowl, Five Pins (57-28) remains in first place after a 4-1 week on Aug. 24. Skippers (51.5-33.5) also went 4-1 to move into second place, followed by Turkeys (51-34), No Splits (49.5-35.5), Slo Movers (48-37), Wrecking Crew (41.5-43.5), High Rollers (39-46), The Bowlers (38-47), and Stayin' Alive (37.5-47.5).
Debbie Kolpa had the women's high handicap game (233), while Diane Cooke had the high handicap series (635). Ron Cargill had the men's high handicap game (246), while Chuck Adams had the high handicap series (696). No Splits had the high team handicap game (863), while Five Pins had the high handicap series (2,494).
Adams again led the men's scratch scoring with a 696 series with games of 246, 245, and 205, while Robert Rigby had a 615 series with games of 222, 213, and 180. Warren Corriveau Sr. had a 566 series that featured games of 216 and 181, John Walker had a 536 series with a 184 game, Fred Ashworth had a 520 series with games of 193 and 181, and Gary Montgomery had a 511 series with a 204 game.
Nancy Dalzell had the women's high scratch series (447) and game (174). Kolpa had a 162 game, Cooke rolled a 159 and a 158, and Carol Gloski had a 155 game.
Randolph T. Holhut, deputy editor of this newspaper, has written this column since 2010 and has covered sports in Windham County since the 1980s. Readers can send him sports information at [email protected].
This Sports column by Randolph T. Holhut was written for The Commons.