"I approached the Vermont Principal's Association and petitioned them to sanction rock climbing as a sport," said Steve Lulek, co-owner of the Green Mountain Climbing Center. "The outcome of that meeting, because they were unsure of climbing as a sport, they're doing an exception to policy. For our January competition the director of the Vermont Principal's Association has been tasked to show up to the competition to interview, at least as I understand it, kids, parents and schools to see if this is a legitimate activity, if there is legitimate interest.
Long Trail is far from being the lone school in the state with a rock climbing program. According to Lulek there are eight schools that participate at the facility in Rutland. He also has a gym in Quechee and between the two, he said there are 12 high schools and 14 junior high schools participating with a total of 22 teams and about 175 students. The numbers are a significant increase from 11 years ago when the sport first. At the time, Lulek said there were two schools - Green Mountain High School and Otter Valley High School - that had rock climbing programs with a total of 11 students participating.
If the VPA receives positive feedback, parents would then have to go before the VPA next November and petition for rock climbing to be a sport. If it is approved, Lulek said that it would be under a two year exhibition activity before it officially becomes a sport in the State of Vermont.
"The problem is climbing has never been recognized as a sport or team event anywhere in the world. So, when people hear about this they don't understand it and most people run away from it," said Lulek. "Yet, it continually is getting recognition and is growing in popularity for many, many reasons."
In the past year, private schools in Colorado have been trying to create rock climbing as a sport, but it has not been very well organized, Lulek said.
At Long Trail, the sport initially began years ago when a girl who was a serious climber attended the school, according to LTS Rock Climbing Head Coach Simone Hughes. The program was eventually discontinued before resurfacing four years ago. Since then, a number of students have gravitated to the sport.
"We've got a big team," said Hughes. "[We have] six middle schoolers and 18 high schoolers. For a school our size that's a huge team. We have more kids on our team than a school like Rutland."
Nine of the 18 high school students have returned to the team this year, Hughes said. However, of the six middle school students only one was on the team last year.
Lulek said he came up with the concept of rock climbing as a team sport about 13 years ago, but that it took about two years to figure out how to make the sport work in that fashion.
The sport begins in November with a competition being held one Wednesday each month culminating in the championship in mid March. During competition, teams are given an hour and a half and each climber has to submit their best four climbs to their coach. The coach then has to submit the best five climbs turned in by the members of the team.
During competition, there are four rules that climbers must adhere to, Lulek said.
"You can't touch a wall that's not in [your climb,] a hold that's not in [your climb,] you can't be pulled by the rope to assist you in making the move on the climb and you cannot fall," said Lulek. "If you follow the path, the route is what it's called, get your head to the top, touch your head to the ceiling [and] touch for three seconds you are awarded the climb."
Scoring is determined by following the route. For example, if a climber were to successfully climb a 5.8 route they would receive 800 points; a 5.9, 900 points and so on and so forth. Generally speaking, while climbs can range from 5.1 to 5.15, Lulek said the difficulty is scaled down in most gyms and ranges from a 5.5 to 5.13.
The paths are color coded, ranking their difficulty, and Hughes said her students are constantly striving to improve.
"They may start off with doing something simple and then a month later they're two colors better," she said. "I notice my kids push themselves because they want to be better for themselves. I find its such a great sport because your part of a team, but your working toward your personal best."