High school sports might mot be dead in Ludlow in spite of the closing of the town’s high school.

The two popular soccer tournaments that had been hosted by Black River High School: The Josh Cole Tournament for the boys and the Black River Invitational for the girls would have been held this season were it not for COVID shortening the season. Windsor and Leland & Gray were set to host both tournaments at Ludlow’s Dorsey Park.

Former Black River athletic director Joe Gurdak believes those schools will pick up the ball again in 2021 so that the Dorsey Park lights will come on for some high school soccer.

Schools like Proctor, Otter Valley, Windsor, Leland & Gary, Bellows Falls and Green Mountain have made plenty of memories at these tournaments over the years. They will likely get a chance to make more in the future.

Dorsey Park provides a great atmosphere, particularly for night games.

The attendance figures to be robust with not only fans from the participating schools finding their way to Dorsey, but Ludlow residents also attending despite no longer having a horse in the race. Ludlow people have always embraced soccer.

Looking further ahead, there might come a day when the new Black River Independent School gives Ludlow fans its own teams to root for again.

The independent school launched this fall with a pilot program of 16 students, grades 7-12.

That’s a number too small for team sports but the idea is to grow the school’s enrollment in the coming years.

The Josh Cole Soccer Tournament has become one of those great local traditions. The 2019 version was the silver anniversary edition. It saw Green Mountain defeating Leland & Gray 4-1 in the championship game, signaling a great year ahead for the Chieftains that ended with a state championship.

Black River was unable to field a team in 2019 but the tournament went on anyway. Two of the players who have been wearing the maroon and white of Black River, Alex Kirdzik and Bowen Stark, wound up playing for the state champion Green Mountain team.

Josh Cole was a talented Black River athlete who was a starter in soccer, basketball and baseball as a freshman.

He died in an ATV accident and it appears the tournament will continue to be played in his name.

Maggie McKearin banged in two goals and Maddie Flanders added a goal and two assists to lead Proctor to a 5-3 victory over Otter Valley in the 2019 Black River Invitational, an event that has become a highlight on the girls soccer calendar.

Like the Green Mountain boys, the Proctor girls went on to wear the state crown so the Ludlow tournaments had the distinction of launching two state championship seasons.

It is the dream of many that Ludlow’s BRIS mushrooms into a school capable of supporting varsity athletics.

Pat Pullinen, a Black River High School graduate and former coach at the school, is on the Black River Independent School’s Board of Trustees. He piloted Black River teams to a number of state and league titles and bleeds the maroon and white.

He is hopeful that BRIS will gain in enrollment to the point where it will be able to field varsity teams.

It is a topic that has been discussed at the board’s meetings.

Pullinen said there has been a great deal of interest from second-home owners about the school for their children in light of the fact that they might not be leaving this winter due to COVID.

He also said that board members have discussed honoring the tradition of forerunners Black River Academy and Black River High School. That would include retaining the maroon and white colors.

“It was a slow go at first because we were just an idea,” Pullinen said. “We didn’t have a building or a faculty.”

Now that those things are in place and the pilot project is underway in the old high school building, Pullinen anticipates enrollment growth. There is mention in the minutes from meetings of growth that would hit 150 to 200 students at some point.

That would enable athletes to carry the colors onto fields and courts once again, bringing more life to Ludlow and rekindling the great memories of Black River teams of the past.

Meanwhile, keeping the lights on at Dorsey Park for two marquee tournaments provides an important piece of our area sports landscape.



Follow Tom on Twitter: @RHSportsGuy

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