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Mt. Abe-VUHS football team closer to reality

BRISTOL/VERGENNES — Football boosters, athletic directors and players and coaches alike in Bristol and Vergennes are mulling over a plan that could spark the first cooperative, cross-district football team in Vermont.
The Vergennes Union High School board of directors discussed the burgeoning plan Monday, and VUHS Athletic Director Peter Maneen said that so far, the reception for the idea has been largely positive.
Maneen has been collaborating with Mount Abraham Union High School Athletic Co-director Jeff Stetson to draft the plan. The idea for a cooperative team comes on the heels of a winless season for the Mt. Abe football team. Just more than a total of 40 students came out for both the varsity and junior varsity programs, far fewer than play at larger schools.
In Vergennes’ case, the cooperative team would give Vergennes football enthusiasts a chance to play closer to home. Right now, the school doesn’t have its own football program, though this year seven players traveled to Winooski High School to play there under a member-to-member agreement.
“All signs are pointing toward moving (the plan) forward,” Maneen said. “I haven’t heard too much in terms of any negative feedback about it. Everything seems to be positive. It seems to be a great solution to a difficult problem.”
The details that would govern this cooperative team are still being hashed out, but Maneen said Vergennes would likely contribute $5,000 a year to the Mount Abe team to help defray the cost of equipment and the team’s infrastructure. That money wouldn’t come out of the VUHS spending plan, though, and would instead be paid in full by Friends of Vergennes Football. Additional costs, which would also be footed by the football boosters, would include transporting students from the Vergennes high school to Mount Abe in Bristol.
Students at Vergennes who have already played football are angling for a “grandfather clause” that would allow those students to finish out their football careers at Winooski. That clause could apply to four students next year.
Otherwise, Maneen estimates that around 15 students would likely be interested in joining the Mount Abe/Vergennes cooperative team next year.
Maneen also added that the cooperative team, if it moves forward, likely wouldn’t reflect many changes from the way the Mount Abe team is currently run. Maneen said he’d like to have a representative from Vergennes on the team’s staff, but that the coaching staff would otherwise stay the same, and the games and practices would still take place in Bristol.
Lee Hodsden, who started the Friends of Vergennes Football group with Dan and Lisa Rowell, is optimistic about the cooperative agreement. Hodsden has two sons in sixth and eighth grade, respectively, in Addison and Vergennes, and they’ve played football in the Middlebury youth league in the past. Hodsden’s a huge fan of the game; he played football in high school and college, and said he thinks giving more students the chance to play the game is important.
“I think it’s the greatest sport on the earth, and I think every kid should have the chance to play it,” Hodsden said.
Hodsden, for one, said he’d prefer his sons not have to make the drives to Winooski and back, should they decide to play football in the future. The students who’ve played for Winooski have to drive 360 miles a week for games and practices; Hodsden thinks keeping student athletes closer to home would be good news for the fans and students both.
In one change that the Vergennes school board requested Monday, the board asked that language be written into the proposal that would allow Vergennes to back out of the cooperative agreement by a certain date if funding from the boosters doesn’t come through. Otherwise, Hodsden said the board gave its preliminary approval to the plan, which means the two schools can continue to draft the proposal.
The next step, Stetson said, will be for the football community to meet after the holidays to discuss the proposal. A date and time for that meeting hasn’t been set. Stetson said he hasn’t heard much feedback from the Mount Abe community about the proposal yet, but what he has heard has been “very positive.”
If both Mount Abe and VUHS agree to move forward, the two schools will have to win approval from the Vermont Principals’ Association before a cooperative team becomes final.
“We’re still plugging away at it,” Stetson said.

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