by Mike Donoghue
A version of this story appeared in the Vermont Standard newspaper this week.
HARTFORD — The Mid Vermont Christian School, which saw its athletic teams banished by the Vermont Principals’ Association from post-season tournaments last year, plans to have a full slate of sports available for their students during the new academic year.
Mid Vermont Christian will participate in the New England Association of Christian Schools (NEACS) this year, Vicky Fogg, head of the school in White River Junction, said.
The school, founded in the mid 1980s, has 127 students from the area enrolled for the coming academic year as of this week and more signing up, Fogg said.
Mid Vermont Christian participated in the NEACS before it opted to move about 10 years ago to compete in the VPA’s Division IV for boys and girls. The Eagles had soared to some success in the NEACS and it continued with the VPA.
However, it hit a big bump last winter when the girls varsity basketball team opted not to play the Long Trail School from Dorset in a VPA first round post-season tournament game Feb. 21 because MVCS said the opponents had a player born as a biological male, but was transitioning to be a female.
Mid Vermont maintained it created both an unfair and unsafe environment for its girls.
“We believe playing against an opponent with a biological male jeopardizes the fairness of the game and the safety of our players,” Fogg said at the time. “Allowing biological males to participate in women’s sports sets a bad precedent for the future of women’s sports in general.”
The VPA, after reading a news story about why Mid Vermont had pulled out of the tournament, later notified the school was suspended. The VPA Executive Committee later voted an indefinite ban on participating in its state-sanctioned activities and tournaments.
Long Trail remained mum during the incident, which drew international attention.
Besides boys and girls basketball, MVCS offers soccer, cross country, golf and was one of the schools that helped get volleyball recognized by the VPA as a sport.
During the VPA Media Day in Montpelier last Friday, Jay Nichols, the executive director, told reporters that MVCS is not a current association member. He said that makes the Eagles ineligible for post-season play. Nichols said any school can apply for membership if it wants and agrees to follow all VPA policies and state laws.
When asked if MVCS can play regular season games with other Vermont schools in various sports, Nichols only said it would not be considered a VPA-sponsored contest. He did not say schools were banned from playing MVCS.
Nichols did not elaborate on the MVCS situation when asked about it during Media Day.
He also did not want to discuss being sued this summer by ousted Woodstock Union High School snowboarding team founder and longtime coach David J. Bloch. Bloch said he joined into a brief conversation before a meet between both a boy and girl on his team discussing the concept of a transgender athlete student competing, according to court papers. The next day he was fired by the superintendent without a full investigation, the lawsuit said.
Bloch’s lawsuit noted a boy on his team said he thought it was unfair for a student born as a biological male competing for the girls. A girl on his team responded that she thought he was transphobic. Bloch filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Nichols, School Superintendent Sherry Sousa, the Windsor Central Supervisory Union School Board, and Heather Bouchey, interim secretary of the Vermont Agency of Education. The lawyers for Bloch also have filed for a preliminary injunction against Sousa, the school board, Nichols and Bouchey for violating the coach’s First Amendment rights.
The transgender student in question was on the Hartford snowboarding team and by coincidence Woodstock and Hartford had shared a bus to the competition at Jay Peak. There was no indication the transgender student knew about the private conversation in the ski lodge.
The Woodstock and Mid Vermont cases are among three transgender disputes in the past year in the region.
The third case involved a student born as a biological male that was transitioning to become a female at Randolph Union High School, court records said. Girls on the volleyball were concerned when the transgender student went into the girls’ locker room and was staring at them as they were changing, court records noted. One of the protesting girls was issued a school suspension and her father was removed as a school soccer coach after he defended his daughter. The daughter and father later the school district, superintendent and two co-principals and eventually reached a $125,000 out-of-court settlement in the case, records show.
Lacking football refs
Also during VPA Media Day, the severe shortage of football referees for Vermont high school games was discussed.
The state has 35 certified officials statewide, down about 10 from last season. That means a maximum of seven games can be played at any one time across Vermont. There are 31 high schools in Vermont with varsity football teams.
The net effect is some high schools will find themselves playing on Thursdays and at least one game is set for a Sunday, Nichols said. Some refs may find themselves doing double duty on Saturdays with either a late morning or afternoon game followed with a night contest under the lights.
The football season will kick off next Thursday night, Aug. 31, with three games with Hartford at St. Johnsbury, Colchester at U-32 and Missisquoi Valley at Milton.
The VPA said the state is looking to add more football referees, especially from players that might have wrapped up their playing days in high school or college. The current pay is $85 for a varsity contest and $57 for a junior varsity and training and mentoring is provided.