Vermonter at Large (9/24/09)

Football has arrived at the home of the Redhawks

Sept. 24, 2009

By Mal Boright

Champlain Valley Union High is now a football school.

Whoa, Hoss! A few things to remember before you leave the barn:

· CVU remains a top-notch soccer school.

· And yes, cross country is also a major fall sport.

· Field hockey is up and coming — witness last season’s Vermont Division 1 crown and the great start this year.

But it is fair to say that football is no longer a fledgling sport and here in its fifth season as a varsity offering, is taking its rightful place alongside the school’s autumn athletic endeavors.

Before the season began, there was trepidation about the Vermont Principals’ Association-directed move up from Division 3 to Division 2. After two eye-popping wins against Division 2 foes and last Saturday’s solid triumph over Division 3 Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax, the Redhawks are indeed competitive in the division.

Yes, there are challenges to come, starting Saturday at home against traditional power Middlebury Union High. But the program has shown it belongs where it has been placed, in a division with some of the longtime football titans in the state.

It is well to remember vital contributors and enabling circumstances of these past few years:

· A tip of the chapeau to Jay Michaud, who brought the program from club status to varsity level and, along with able assistants, coached those first two direction-setting seasons.

· The strong support of former CVU principal Val Gardner, who noted during the School Board meeting at which football was approved at the varsity level that the sport would be important for some students as an additional incentive to stay in school and achieve better grades.

· Continued support from the administration that rightly puts the word student ahead of athlete.

· A strong and vibrant booster organization that has created a positive atmosphere around the program.

· The excellent feeder system that brings youngsters into football at an early age and results in the numbers of more than 85 playing for three successful teams at the high school level.

· Stability in coaching. As the third head coach in the first four years, Jim Provost is in his second season and has shown the results that come from continuity and a steady hand at the helm.

There will certainly in this season and campaigns ahead be the usual ups and downs that any athletic team must go through. But here in year five, CVU football has proven it has risen to the competitive level that was one of the goals of the founders.

An early booster of CVU football was the late Gov. Dick Snelling. Campaigning in Rutland, that high school football mecca, during his first (unsuccessful) gubernatorial campaign in 1966, Snelling was repeatedly asked about football at CVU, where he had been a board member.

Snelling had been a football advocate but could not get enough support to bring a program to fruition.

The governor has to be smiling now.

Williston resident Mal Boright has been an editor, columnist and reporter for several Vermont newspapers. He covers local sports as a correspondent for The Charlotte Citizen and the Williston Observer.