Two districts consider cooperative football

BRISTOL — Looking to field a larger football team, school officials in Vergennes and Bristol are beginning to explore the possibility of a cooperative, cross-district team.
If the plan moves forward, the team would be the first cooperative football team in the state.
The Mount Abraham Union High School board of directors broached its first, tentative discussion of the idea at its meeting on Tuesday, where Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Evelyn Howard told board members to keep their ears to the ground, talk to their constituents and let the idea for a cooperative team percolate.
The idea for a cooperative team comes on the heels of a winless season for the Mount Abe football team. Just more than 40 students came out for both the varsity and junior varsity programs, far fewer than play at larger schools.
The team was hard-hit by injuries, and by the last game of the season, Mount Abe Co-Athletic Director Jeff Stetson said the team had just 19 players dressed for a varsity game. Most members of the team had to play both offensive and defensive sides of the field.
A healthier program would have somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 students, Stetson said — enough to field 15 players for each side of the ball at both the varsity and junior varsity levels.
In Vergennes’ case, the cooperative team would give Vergennes Union High School football enthusiasts a chance to play closer to home. Right now, VUHS doesn’t have its own football program, though this year seven players traveled to Winooski to play on a member-to-member agreement.
VUHS Athletic Director Peter Maneen said that the cost of starting a program from scratch there would run anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000. A cooperative team wouldn’t be that expensive, but it also wouldn’t be free, Maneen said. The exact cost of such a team is one of the details that would have to be ironed out if the proposal moves forward.
Maneen said that there are some drawbacks to cooperative teams. Vergennes students wouldn’t be playing at their own school and in their own town, though they would certainly be closer to home than Winooski.
And from the Mount Abe side of the equation, Howard pointed out on Tuesday night that some parents or players might be frustrated if their athletes lose playing time to out-of-district teammates.
Neither Mount Abe football coach Ernie Senecal nor the high school’s athletic director, Jeff Stetson, were on hand for Tuesday’s brief discussion. Their input will come later, Stetson said, in the event that an actual proposal goes before the school board.
Stetson stressed that the two schools are still very much in the exploratory phase of this idea. He said he wants to invite players and their parents to a discussion about the potential plan early in the process.
“We’re just trying to find a way to get a strong group,” Stetson said. “The kids that are here love to play football, but our numbers are such that they’re making it difficult for us to safely compete.”
Bristol resident John Flowers, the parent of Mount Abe junior and football player Mark Flowers, urged the school board Tuesday to consider a cooperative team, despite what he said will likely be some parents’ concerns that their student-athletes will see less time on the field.
His son, Flowers said, has said he wouldn’t object to having less playing time for the greater good of the team.
“I would urge parents and school officials to look at the bigger picture — the future health, and indeed survival, of Mount Abe football, a program into which community members recently poured thousands of dollars of material and labor with the field reconstruction project,” Flowers said.
“As we all know, student enrollment across Vermont is trending downward, which does not bode well for a future surge in in-district participation in football, or other sports, for that matter,” Flowers said. “Cooperative arrangements with neighboring districts may be the wave of the future.”

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