Spaulding and Montpelier square off at the Aud!

(And the tragic story of the missing baboon)

Spaulding brings the ball to a waiting Montpelier defense during the March 9 semi-finals at the Barre Auditorium. Fernandez photo

by Peter Fernandez

The first time I stepped foot in the Barre Auditorium was March of 1960 when Julio and Carolyn  took their three sons to the annual spring Sportsman Show,  an impressive fish & game-plus exhibit with a plethora of  guns, boats, cars, trailers, outdoor sporting equipment,  a cornucopia of carnival food, and even some  exotic creatures, like a pair of baboons, but that was Friday night. We returned the next evening to find just one frowning and guilty-looking baboon. The sinister story of these separated simians was that the stronger ape had aggressively disposed of the other.

Fifty years to the day, only the most effective of homosapian teen tribes or nearly naked apes in gym shorts, will survive to reach and win  the hoop championship at the annual spring sporting rites at the  historic Barre Auditorium.

Twelve years later,  I was back  as a varsity cager with  the 1972 19-3 Northfield High School Marauders basketball sharing the Green Mt. title with Barre’s Marian High, a private Roman Catholic school in its final year of operation.  That solid Mike McGuire and Mike Lajeunnesse led team dropped to Class M only to be upset by Proctor in their M finals. We reached the Class I semis just to lose to the Class L Winooski Spartans.

 The Vermont high school team sport caste system is no longer Class L (Large); I, Intermediate; M, Medium, and S for Small. Now it is I, II, III, and IV, and they get to shoot the three pointer. 

The March 9 semi-finals between cross-town rivals, the Spaulding Crimson Tide at 24-2 with a 68.8 scoring average; and Montpelier at 21-1 with a 74.7 offensive clip, had MHS up 29-27 at the half. Jonah Cattaneo, who could start for any D3 (maybe even D2) team in America, scored 20 of the Solons’ points. But it was a different story in the third as Carson Cody (15 pts.), a surname synonymous with local high school hoop excellence, became The Lifeguard as Montpelier finally surfed over the stubborn Crimson Tide, 66-43. The Solons were also bailed out with big rebound games from Ronnie Riby-Williams and Rashid Nikiema.

MHS has two highly skilled players in Cody and Carter Bruzzese, talented beyond their freshman status, who are going to give capital city fans plenty to cheer about over the next three seasons. But, Spaulding has hot shooting Cooper Diego, Tavarius Vance and Riley Severy returning for another shot at the teen trophy. 

I was discussing with a friend who had seen Montpelier beat Spaulding in last week’s semis, if Rashid Nikiema, after a lackluster game, could play D3 hoops, when he channeled Larry David with a “Nooo, I don’t think so.” But, if he saw Nikiema lead the Solons over MSJ for the D 2 championship, he would have said differently as Big Rashid and fellow senior, point guard/quarterback, Jonah Cattaneo led the superior passing capital kids over a stubborn MSJ squad, 66-39. Montpelier had to slow down senior, Andrew Prunty, MSJ’s 1000 point scorer whose 9 pts kept his squad within striking distance at the half, 27-19.  

The Solons, led by Rashia Nakiema’s 26 points, 16 rebounds and half a dozen blocked shots,  overcame MSJ’s talented big men, 6’7” Jacob Williams (10 pts) 6’5” Peter Carlson and 6’1” Owen Traynor. Timely hoops by the Bruzzezze brothers and the all-around hustle-play of junior, Ronnie Riby-Williams, aided and abetted the victory.

Because of Niekiema’s all around MVP play, including a rim scraping layup off a nifty Cattaneo pass early in the fourth, the Solons upped the score to53-29. Before long, it was MHS, 61-33 on a Niekiama steal that led to an exclamatory breakaway dunk, and, yes, the crowd roared, except for MSJ’s many fans.

In the other championships at The Aud that day, Blue Mountain outlasted White River Junction, 26-25 for the D 4 crown, and Hazen defeated Winooksi, 37-34, for the D3 Championship. Vermont high school hoops never looked better, but whatever happened to local papers printing box scores? I reckon they’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs, and Drive-In Theatres, like the Twin City back in the seventies.