Playing field now more level for MUHS teams

This school year will see almost all Middlebury Union High School sports competing at the Division II level, with the exceptions being field hockey and both lacrosse teams.
Other Tiger athletic programs are already in D-II, including basketball, soccer and boys’ cross-country. Still other girls’ programs are now technically in D-I, but are in the process of being moved to D-II, according to MUHS activities director Sean Farrell. Because the numbers are within appeal guidelines, Farrell expects the Vermont Principals’ Association to OK the changes.
And that’s a good thing. The playing field is just not level for MUHS and other schools on the cusp of D-I. It’s just a demographic reality.
This year’s school population numbers are not yet available on the VPA Web site, but last year’s student counts illustrate the issue. There are about 70 high schools in Vermont. The VPA would like to have at least 16 schools in each of its four divisions for sports that almost all schools play, like soccer, baseball and basketball.
The problem comes in D-I. According to the 2008 student counts, there are six high schools with more than 1,000 students: BFA-St. Albans (1,124), Burlington (1,206), Champlain Valley (1,377), Essex (1,392), Mount Anthony (1,143) and Rutland (1,054).
Another seven schools ranged in population from 826 (Colchester) to 999 (St. Johnsbury).
But the VPA sets the bar for D-I participation in core sports (soccer, basketball, baseball and softball) at 325 students per gender. That’s why the MUHS girls’ soccer team, which has averaged two wins a year for a decade, has been forced to play in D-I — last year MUHS had 360 girls enrolled. But MUHS had just 316 boys in school, allowing the boys’ soccer team to drop down to D-II and compete successfully.
And it’s fair to ask whether a school like MUHS, which last year had 676 students and this year has fewer, has more in common with Burlington (1,206) or D-II schools like Mount Abraham (603), Otter Valley (568), Springfield (535) or U-32 (599). Or even Vergennes (417).
Consider also that the larger schools also come from larger population centers with more local resources, both physical (gymnasiums, fitness centers, fields, rinks) and professional (coaches, experts, easy access to off-season club teams).
I appreciate the fact that the VPA would like to have equal numbers in its divisions, but maybe its time to recognize that D-I should be for the big dogs. And for those teams with the tradition, resources and willingness to run with them — that’s something we can all applaud. Programs should take on the toughest challenges possible.
But at the same time it’s not fair for the VPA to insist that teams from schools like MUHS, Hartford (683 students) and Missisquoi (662) serve as sacrificial lambs.

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