Elizabeth Bailey, Kiera Pipeling, Kiana Grabowski and Lyndsey Elms are part of what is arguably the most intense small-school sports rivalry in Vermont.
Bailey, Grabowski and Pipeling compete in the green and gold of West Rutland, Elms in the Proctor maroon.
The colors clash in a rivalry that was forged long ago. During its hey-day, when the Vermont Marble Co. shops were humming and packed with workers from Proctor and West Rutland toiling side by side, the rivalry was heated in and away from the athletic arena.
It goes on today. It is by design that each school is the other’s opponent for homecoming.
Now, Westside’s Bailey, Grabowski and Pipeling and Proctor’s Elms will be united by basketball and a once-in-a-lifetime cultural opportunity.
They will be among the players representing Vermont on a basketball trip to Barcelona, July 13-21, 2020.
Blue Mountain’s Lauryn Alley and Pipeling were the catchers in the Division IV state championship softball game played in June. Bailey was the winning pitcher.
Alley and the Westside players will also be sharing this journey to Barcelona wrapped in a basketball package.
The others making the trip are Fair Haven’s Ryleigh Coloutti and Zoey Cole, Thetford Academy’s Namya Benjamin, Emma Colby, Kelsey Smith and Emily Vaughan, Leland & Gray’s Izzy Ameden and Sydney Hescock, North Country Union’s Riann Fortin and Sarah Guertin, Arlington’s Haley Mattison, Peoples Academy’s Paige Pierce and Randolph’s Sara Rae. April Johnson, a player from Okemos High School in Michigan, will also be joining the Vermont team.
Coloutti can get an account of what this experience is like from her sister Halle and mother Christie. They took the same basketball tour of England a couple years ago. Halle was a player for Fair Haven at the time and her mother went as an assistant coach and chaperone.
“You are never left alone. It is super safe,” Christie said.
Leland & Gray girls varsity basketball coach Terry Merrow will coach the team just as he did on previous trips to England and Italy.
“It’s one thing to read about Barcelona but it is another to walk through the streets,” Merrow said.
He has found the reactions of the players from the excursions to Italy and England to be very rewarding.
“All the kids have come back and told me that the trip changed their lives by making them appreciate what they have here and by seeing what others go through,” Merrow said.
The response this year was so overwhelming that Vermont will actually have two teams. They will be playing in a tournament where other teams in the field are from other cities in Spain.
The Vermont team will fly out of Boston, where it will be joined by Johnson from Michigan.
“The team she was going to go with backed out. She had already paid her money and wanted to go very badly,” Merrow said. “Their director called me and asked if we would mind if she went with us. I said, ‘Sure, why not.’”
Merrow wants to get the players together for practices twice a week once their 2019-20 high school season is over.
The practices will be in the former Chelsea High School gym.
Halle Coloutti will be Merrow’s assistant coach and Christie Coloutti will coach one of the two Vermont teams when they are playing at the same time. West Rutland’s Laurie Serrani will make the trip as the scorekeeper.
“They put the girls up in four-or-five-star hotels and they feed them breakfast and dinner. It’s a nice package,” Merrow said.
The players are doing fundraising activities in their area. The team members from Rutland County will be holding a basket raffle at the West Rutland Town Hall on Oct. 6. The doors open at 11 a.m. and the drawing begins at 1 p.m. The cost is $5 for admission and a sheet of 25 tickets with $2 for an additional sheet.
There will also be refreshments and 50-50 tickets available..
There will be more than 100 baskets, gift certificates and prizes.
Upon arriving in Barcelona, the players will get to immerse themselves in another culture, sample the local food and gather a storehouse of memories.
“Meeting people,” is Pipeling’s quick response when asked what she is most looking forward to.
“It will be nice to play with Lyndsey because she’s from Proctor,” Bailey said.
It is also a chance to measure yourself against competition you have not seen before.
That is important to these players who are pretty serious about basketball.
Pipeling and Elms are two who are anticipating playing the game in college.
Pipeling would like to play soccer and basketball at that level and is eyeing schools already, one of which is NCAA Division III Averett College in Danville, Virginia.
Elms mentioned Roanoke, another school in Virginia, as a possible landing spot for her next basketball stop.
Like the majority of Vermont athletes, these players are involved in multiple sports.
Cole, for example, names softball as her favorite.
But next year, when they journey to the 20th most visited city in the world by international visitors, they will be united by basketball, tourism and an educational experience they will talk about forever.