The tassels have been turned and the state championship hardware hoisted.
The Vermont-New Hampshire high school all-star games have a piece of the summer sports scene and most sports have one of these.
But there was a time when football had that distinction all to itself.
Ted Lewis, a businessman from Claremont, New Hampshire, took a trip to see what the Shrine Game of the Carolinas was all about. He was so impressed with that high school all-star football classic between North and South Carolina that he brought the concept back with him as the blueprint for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl between Vermont and New Hampshire.
Lewis and several others met at a Chinese restaurant in Manchester, New Hampshire, and hammered out the details. The game was born in 1954 at Holman Stadium in Nashua, New Hampshire.
The Shrine Game had the summer spotlight all to itself.
Then one day, about 20 years later, Springfield’s Dr. Phil Hughes came into the Eagle Times office where I was working and excitedly told us that soccer would have its own Vermont-New Hampshire game patterned after the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl.
That game joined its football cousin in 1975.
Now, just about every sport has a Twin State contest.
Most tell us about them. But, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why the Twin State Field Hockey Game is kept a secret nearly every year.
I hadn’t heard a word about this year’s edition so I called Otter Valley field hockey coach Stacey Edmunds on Thursday morning and was told it will be played Friday, June 21 in the evening at St. Anselm College.
Some of the all-star games do handle the publicity aspect of their event pretty well. The Lions Twin State Soccer Cup does a solid job most years and the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl folks have done an outstanding job of promoting theirs.
This year, the Maple Sugar Bowl will close out the summer high school all-star game schedule on Aug. 3 with Vermont gunning for its fourth straight win over New Hampshire at Castleton University.
Vermont head coach Marty Richards said he is planning to meet with his two quarterbacks in the next week or so to discuss the offense.
Richards loves what Rutland’s Ryan Moore and Fair Haven’s Cam Coloutti bring to the position.
“They can both throw and run and they are smart,” Richards said.
One QB who will not be in the Vermont camp is the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, St. Johnsbury’s Jake Cady.
Cady, who who threw 36 touchdown passes and rushed for 15 more scores this past fall, will be on scholarship at NCAA Division II Assumption College. The early start of the Greyhounds’ preseason camp precludes him from participating in the Shrine Game.
This will be Richards’ swan song in Vermont high school football. He stepped down over the winter as the Mount Mansfield head coach.
He was hoping one of his assistants would want to be the head coach. If that had been the case, he would have coached through the 2020 season, aiding his eventual successor in the transition.
But nobody on his staff wanted to be the head man so Richards decided it was best to make a clean break now.
“I know it is out there that Marty’s assistants all quit on him and so he quit too. That’s not even close to being true,” Richards said.
Anyone who knows Richards knows how much he loves football.
I would not be surprised to see him back in the game in some capacity in the future.
“Right now, I’d say no,” Richards said of the prospect of returning to the game.
But we’ve seen coaches aching to get back in the game after a brief hiatus so don’t be surprised to see him surface someplace in the future.
I don’t think you will ever see Mike Empey take a hiatus from football. He will be back on the Vermont Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl staff as the line coach for the third year in a row. He has also been on the staff for the North-South Senior Bowl three straight years.
Heck, he would coach for nothing.
Oh yeah, he did. He was on the Bellows Falls Union High School staff in a volunteer capacity.
He would have remained wearing the purple if they could have come up with some money.
They were unable to do so, but he will still be wearing purple. It will just be the Brattleboro shade of purple.
He still has only love for Bellows Falls football. He and BF head coach Bob Lockerby remain good friends.
“I will always be a Bellows Falls football fan,” Empey said.
He just won’t be on the first week of the season. Bellows Falls and Brattleboro open the campaign against one another.
This year, the stakes are higher for that game. Brattleboro has dropped down to Division II this season so that will be a league contest.
Empey is looking forward to the challenge of being an offensive line coach in a new offense.
He has found the Colonels to be buying into everything, including in the weight room.
He is energized for a new season in a new setting, just as he is looking to meet a new group of Shrine players when camp opens Sunday, July 28, at Castleton University.
“I like coaching the higher level players,” Empey said of the Shrine experience. “I love football and I love football in Vermont.”
Empey stays connected with the Vermont linemen in the months leading up to the camp on social media, explaining the offense and his philosophy on line play.
“I love the camp at Castleton. It is an awesome setting,” Empey said.
The Vermont and New Hampshire teams report to Castleton on July 28 for Shrine camp. Prior to that, the Quarterback/Receivers Specialty Clinic on July 7 kicks off the week-long Southern Vermont All-Star Football Camp at Rutland’s Alumni Field. Wow, football really is in the air.