Vermont basketball fans will remember the Vermont Frost Heaves, who had a successful run in the American Basketball Association and Premier Basketball League in the mid-2000s before folding in 2011.
The Frost Heaves, who played their home games at the venerable Barre Auditorium, were two-time ABA champions, taking the crown in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.
There’s a new ABA team taking Vermont by storm in 2021, as the Bennington Martens began playing games at the end of October.
The Martens have been playing their games in Rutland this year and have posted a 2-3 record so far.
Shawn Pratt and Christopher Kidd are the co-owners of the team and serve as Director of Basketball Operations, along with their roles as coaches.
Their main goal is to provide mentorship.
“Guys need mentorship to make sure they’re doing the right things,” Pratt said.
Both guys have plenty of experience in basketball and leading others.
Pratt grew up in Brooklyn, New York and played basketball for Abraham Lincoln High School in the borough. He went on to play at Southern Vermont College in Bennington and played professionally.
Pratt does a mentorship program called Brooklyn 2 Vermont.
Kidd is a Pastor in Troy, New York and is the owner, trainer and coach of Hoops4Christ LLC. He is a graduate of Sage College of Albany and is a former ABA player himself.
There have been multiple college closings, especially in southern Vermont in recent years, among them Southern Vermont College, College of St. Joseph and Green Mountain College.
With their closures went with it opportunities. The Martens are hoping to slide into that void and provide players a chance to improve, both on and off the court.
“We want to give guys a chance to play pro basketball,” Pratt said. “We want to help with their careers and show that a pro career is a real possibility.”
The Martens have plenty of support creating a successful operation. Carolyn Blitz, Deborah Larkin and Jeannie Jenkins, all leaders in Bennington County, are major supporters of the team. They are three of the many in the team’s corner.
The Martens can even look at another successful semi-professional team based out of Bennington, the Southern Vermont Storm football team, as a model.
The team will eventually play its games in Bennington at the Old Bennington High School on Main Street.
“They’re redoing the building. It will be the Martens’ home when its finished,” Pratt said. “It’s going to be beautiful. I’m very excited.”
Pratt doesn’t know when the renovation will exactly be done, but for at least this season, Rutland’s Heritage Family Field House, the former College of St. Joseph athletic center now owned by the city for recreation purposes, is the team’s home.
Pratt notes how great the partnership between the Martens and Rutland’s Recreation Department has been.
“It’s a great facility. The floors are great,” Pratt said. “It’s exciting to be able to collaborate with different companies and communities. The Recreation Department has been very supportive. Without their facility, it would be hard for the team to function.”
The Martens are hoping to make their mark on the community as well.
“We want to help bring the community together and connect with them through this,” Pratt said. “We are in the heart of southern Vermont and we want to give people something to be excited for.”
The Martens’ roster has a few familiar names to Rutland County hoop fans.
Heith Mason played his high school basketball at Poultney High School under coach Bob Coloutti and is suiting up for the Martens this year.
“He’s been improving. Guys like him, they take overseas,” Pratt said.
John Ryals, from Brooklyn, played his college basketball on the same court he is this year with the Martens, at the College of St. Joseph.
They are just two of the many players Pratt and Kidd are excited about.
When it comes down it, it’s all about giving the the tools the players need for whatever next step they take.
“Guys like them can play on those teams (overseas, in the G-League, etc.),” Pratt said. “There are a lot of guys who can’t go to school and play basketball. This gives them a chance to say their basketball career isn’t over for however long they want to take it.”