Valley News – Vermont teams scramble to find facilities after Scott bans travel to NH

Valley News Sports Editor

Published: 1/7/2021 8:00:51 AM

Modified: 1/7/2021 8:00:39 AM

Cean Lieberman had to roll on down the road to keep his team rolling down the alley.

The Vermont state government’s nonessential travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic are having an unanticipated impact on some Upper Valley high school sports programs such as the Hartford High bowling team that Lieberman coaches. The Hurricanes can’t cross the New Hampshire border to practice and compete at their normal home, Claremont’s Maple Lanes, and have had to find alternate arrangements.

Not all of the affected programs have been so successful. Windsor bowling, another Maple Lanes guest, may not have a season. The alpine skiing teams at Thetford Academy and Hartford are on hiatus as well, unable to access their usual Granite State training slopes.

For the time being, Lieberman has his squad working on its craft at Randolph’s Valley Bowl.

“Going to Randolph is more time up (getting there), which means less practice time,” Lieberman said this week. “It’s a smaller facility, and right now that’s not bad because the state of Vermont isn’t allowing league bowling. But once their leagues start up — hopefully that’s soon for the owner’s behalf — we would have to leave practice sooner. Whether it’s 10 or 15 minutes, it’s still less practice time.”

Vermont winter high school sports remain in practice mode; those teams that didn’t commence socially distanced workouts during the Christmas holiday started Monday. Gov. Phil Scott has yet to announce a date when interscholastic competition can begin.

Without access to Lebanon’s Storrs Hill Ski Area, there’s little Thetford athletic director Blendon Salls can do for his ski team.

“The things that Storrs Hill has done for us are fantastic; they do a lot for us,” Salls said. “I would hope the state — especially since it’s noncontact; you just go and ski — would give us permission to do it. We’re just waiting on that.”

Thetford has accessed Storrs Hill for training the past two years, Salls said. Hartford’s alpinists usually congregate at Whaleback, across the border in Enfield. The fact that both hills have lights is a significant attraction.

TA used to train at the Dartmouth Skiway, which closes for the day at 4 p.m. With a 2:45 p.m. end to the school day — which has changed to 2 p.m. during the pandemic, Salls noted — it leaves very little time for on-snow teaching. Storrs Hill has kept the lights on until 5 or 5:30 p.m. to give the Panthers more training time.

Salls said East Corinth’s Northeast Slopes has moved its hours around to help the Panthers, but the small daytime-operating area — which has no snowmaking — is closed until more natural snow falls. He’s also talked with Pico Mountain to see if will accommodate the team.

“Other than that, we’re on hold,” Salls said.

Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno said his ski team’s only possible alternative is South Pomfret’s Suicide Six Ski Area. (The Quechee Ski Area operates only a Friday-to-Sunday schedule, he noted.) But Hartford runs into the same problem; Su Six has no lights, and Moreno isn’t willing to shorten the academic day to facilitate an earlier arrival. Moreno said the team may be able to do some Su Six training on Sundays soon.

“We’ll do some stuff on campus; we’ll get out and do strength and conditioning, work the cross country trail a little, get their legs in shape and get the chemistry going,” Moreno said. “I hope the kids can access Quechee or wherever they go on their own, but they’ll get no gate training or anything like that.”

Lieberman saw the writing on the wall and started investigating his options in November. Valley Bowl and Springfield’s Up Your Alley were the closest Vermont-situated possibilities; the latter has yet to reopen, the facility’s answering message simply citing “state restrictions” on Wednesday morning.

The Randolph house has provided two-hour Monday and Wednesday afternoon slots for Hartford to get rolling.

In the meantime, Moreno and Salls have written letters to Montpelier seeking a travel restriction waiver. Lieberman and Windsor bowling coach Steve Bly both noted that Maple Lanes — which also hosts the Stevens High bowling program — has put in strict mask-wearing rules and other measures that should satisfy authorities.

“They are taking the necessary steps to allow us to go there,” Bly said. “It’s just a matter of basically the governor ordering a lightening-up and allowing students to go across the border.”

Bly worried that he may not be able to attract enough athletes for a team until he can be certain it has a place to play. Windsor basketball began workouts this week; bowling can’t, because its home is 10 minutes on the wrong side of a line on a map.

Others are more fortunate.

Said Moreno: “It was good that we had options.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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