This is the time of year Barre comes alive. It is the center of the Vermont high school basketball universe for two weeks with the girls tournament taking center stage one week and the boys the next.
The Final Four in three divisions, pulling fans from all corners of the state to the grand old building high on the hill above downtown Barre, makes for an intoxicating two weeks for hoop fans.
It makes me chuckle when I hear someone complaining about nearby Rutland County rivals like Proctor, West Rutland and Mount St. Joseph having to make the 70-mile journey to play one another in a semifinal or championship basketball game. Those complainers obviously never sampled the Barre Aud experience. They certainly never tasted it as a player. They wouldn’t want to play anywhere else.
Saturday, three state champions will be crowned in boys basketball in a packed house that oozes more character than any gym you have likely been in.
But the high school state championships are not the only sports events titillating the senses in Barre these days.
There is a new college tournament this year scheduled for Nov. 22-23 at Barre Auditorium. The Granite City Shootout is local and figures to kick off the college basketball season on both the men’s and women’s side in spectacular fashion.
The four men’s teams in the tournament will be Castleton University, Norwich University, Northern Vermont University-Johnson and Vermont Tech. The women’s field will boast Norwich, Castleton, Northern Vermont-Johnson and Northern Vermont-Lyndon.
Former Twinfield Union High and Castleton star Chad Copeland helped pull this event together as assistant athletic director for communications at NVU-Johnson.
“Our coaches at Johnson go to Barre Auditorium to recruit during the tournament. They had talked about what a great place it would be to have a tournament,” Copeland said. “When I got this job, I said, ‘we can make this happen.’”
Copeland knows the excitement of The Aud. He played on a Twinfield team that won a state title there.
“It is a cool venue to play in. I think it’s a tournament that can become very popular,” he said.
They have also expanded The Aud basketball calendar with things like an open practice for coach John Becker’s University of Vermont men’s basketball team and a camp run by Missisquoi girls varsity basketball coach and former UVM star Taylor Coppenrath.
But the excitement on the Barre sports landscape is not confined to what is going on up on the hill.
The Barre Post 10 American Legion baseball team is returning this summer after a hiatus.
It’s one of the most storied Legion programs in the state. Post 10’s 12 state championships is second only to Rutland Post 31’s 15.
Barre’s return is balanced by Ludlow Post 36’s exit. The absence of Ludlow means each Southern Division team will now play one another four times instead of three.
That can only intensify the Southern rivalries and it gives Lakes Region one more chance to try to pick off Rutland. That Rutland County rivalry is special to Lakes Region. Post 31 normally gets the best of them but, believe me, when the Lakers can pull off a win in the series, they regard it as pretty special.
Now, maybe the rivalry will heat up between Barre Post 10 and Montpelier Post 3.
One thing that is heating up, for sure, is the sports scene in Barre.