“Jake said to practice like you are playing Saturday,” Proctor girls basketball coach Chris Hughes said.
That directive from Proctor Athletic Director Jake Eaton was easier said than done.
The Proctor practice on Thursday was anything but normal. The players were somber. Some words were spoken through tears.
The Phantoms, like their Rutland County neighbors Fair Haven, were hoping to compete Saturday at Barre Auditorium for a state championship.
But uncertainty hung over the teams. A conference call on Friday morning would determine whether or not the championship games would be played at Barre Auditorium — Proctor is slated to meet Mid-Vermont Christian for the Division IV crown at noon and Fair Haven is scheduled to go against Harwood at 3:45 p.m. for the Division II state title.
Going to Barre Auditorium every late February and March is a ritual for Proctor High School fans. You count on it.
If it’s March and you are from Proctor, your car wants to go to Barre,” Mark Chandon, a 1970 Proctor High graduate, said on Thursday.
But those fans yearning for their annual basketball fix at the Barre Aud are being told to stay home. The Coronavirus that is changing the way Vermonters and everyone else is living their lives, has caused the Vermont Principals’ Association to only allow immediate family into the Aud to watch Saturday’s girls basketball state championship games if the conference call even yields the news that they will be played.
The girls Division I and III semifinals games were postponed on Thursday.
Proctor sophomore guard Maggie McKearin saw her brother Conner McKearin celebrate a state championship with his teammates on the Proctor High boys basketball team last Saturday.
That postgame celebration was in front of a large contingent of Proctor fans who made the trip to the Granite City.
Now, if Maggie and her teammates are fortunate enough to have their game and to get past Mid-Vermont, their postgame ceremony is certain to have a much different feel to it with only immediate family members allowed into the brick building so steeped in high school basketball tradition.
Each player was only allowed to pick five people who will be on a list and admitted to the game. Again, that is if it is played.
“I have already chosen my five,” Proctor senior Allie Almond said.
Should Mid-Vermont win the title game it will be the first in school history. The Eagles have never been to a final.
The small school in Quechee, where the total female enrollment is 11, would certainly be carving out one of the great stories in the annals of Barre Auditorium, but they will do it in front of the smallest crowd in Barre Aud tournament history.
Likewise, the Harwood girls basketball program has never won a state crown and tournament fever is high at the school.
It all brings back the memory of the 1955 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl when the Vermont football team practiced inside Brattleboro High School for a week due to the polio scare and still defeated New Hampshire in the high school all-star game, 12-6.
Fair Haven coach Kyle Wilson sounded somber as he was getting ready to hold practice on Thursday.
“We just want to give the girls the opportunity to play for a state championship,” Wilson said.
Almond said the uncertainty was a big distraction hanging over practice.
“It’s hard. It hurts. For three of our kids (seniors Almond, Maddie Flanders and Lindsey Elms), this is it,” Hughes said.
Hughes gathered his team at midcourt and said to the players, “It is nothing we can control at this point. But we have got to be ready.”
“It is all in the VPA’s (Vermont Principals’ Association) hands right now,” Almond said. “I know the fans want to see us play.”
Almond has a lot on her mind right now. Softball just might be her favorite sport and the one she will play next year at Castleton University. And she knows spring sports are also tenuous due to the Coronavirus.
“That’s definitely in question and it has been a topic of conversation,” Almond said of the spring sports season.
When you walk in the main entrance of Proctor High School, there is sign over the marble bench that reads: “Congratulations, Boys.”
Below is another sign: “Girls, Now It’s Your Turn.”
They certainly hope so. All they want is a chance.
This story has been updated to include the correct year Mark Chandon graduated from Proctor High School.