MSJ, Rutland grid rivals no longer
By Chuck Clarino
Staff Writer | November 10,2009
Mount St. Joseph Academy got its wish when it petitioned the Vermont Interscholastic Football League to move its football team down from Division I to Division III, but it came with a high price – the traditional rivalry game with Rutland High School.
Members of the VIFL met in special session in Barre to hear a petition by MSJ to move down. Principal Paolo Zancanaro and Athletic Director Marty McDonough presented MSJ's case to the league citing low boy count in the school; a low number of boys playing football and the overall success (two wins in the past three seasons) of the program over the past five years as reasons for the move and suggested that it would benefit the football program at the Rutland parochial school.
A motion was made and seconded that the league approve MSJ's downward move for the 2010 school year and after considerable discussion, the motion carried unanimously.
"The hopes are that we can help keep their program alive," said Bob Hingston of Windsor High School, who serves as the executive director of the VIFL. "What we think is that it's in the best interest of kids and that's what it's all about.
"I've said it before and will say it again, I really admire those MSJ kids to go out every game and be out-manned. This should give them an opportunity to go into some games and be successful."
MSJ's move bolsters the number of teams in Division III to 12, while Division I shrank to 10 teams. Division II remained at 12 teams as no other schools moved. The divisional alignment is in the second year of a two-year cycle.
"Some of the questions raised had to do with whether they would field a team or not," Hingston said. "They had around 20 kids and 10 of them were seniors, so we were wondering if they would have the kids. But we were assured that they would have enough players and field a team."
MSJ coach Chip Forte is actively seeking players. Forte has spent three seasons as head coach at MSJ playing with 23 or fewer players each year. Forte stresses conditioning and his teams are always in top physical shape but football is a game of attrition and a school still needs numbers to build a successful football program.
"The thing is not just going down; that's part of the answer. The real answer is getting more kids," said Forte. "I don't know anything about my opponents in Division III; it's like starting all over again. But that's the fun part. For us to be successful we still need kids, plain and simple."
A draft of a 2010 schedule was also approved.
Schools have been asked to contact VIFL scheduler Mike O'Day at South Burlington High School by the end of this week with any concerns.
Mount St. Joseph's first Division III game is the season opener at BFA-Fairfax. The next week the Mounties will play their inaugural Division III game at St. Peter's Field against Bellows Falls. Their other Division III opponents include Mount Abraham, Springfield, Winooski, Windsor, Poultney and Mill River.
"It doesn't surprise me they understand the situation there and still want MSJ to be a viable school," said Forte. "It became clear that we couldn't continually — as much as it saddens me — compete in Division I with the small amount of kids we had."
"The VPA has been more than fair to us and I take this as a positive step. Hopefully we can turn this around and fight our way back up the ladder."
But the one negative is the loss of the MSJ-Rutland game.
MSJ and Rutland have played in a storied cross-town rivalry that has been in existence 79 years. The intra-city rivals first met on Sept. 30, 1930. The game was not played from 1932-35 but has been continuous ever since and has traditionally closed each team's regular season.
"I feel sorry for the community and I feel sorry for the kids," said Forte, who played in several of those rivalry games wearing the Red and White of Rutland High. "It's a terrific loss for the community.
The Mounties will play one nonleague game and it's against Division II Otter Valley at home, a Rutland County team that could take some of the sting away from losing Rutland on its slate.
Rutland will play a nonleague game against Mount Mansfield in place of MSJ. Rutland's other nonleague match is against Foxboro, Mass.
The next step is that the VIFL will recommend to the Vermont Principals Association Football Committee that MSJ be moved to Division III. Many of the VIFL members that voted on MSJ's proposal sit on the on that VPA committee and it should pass with few problems. Ultimately, the VPA Activities Standards Committee has the final say.
"That's pretty much a rubber stamp," said Hingston. "They're pretty much home free."