Bulldog basketball nears century mark
Locally, about five months before World War I broke out, the Burr and Burton Academy - then Burr and Burton Seminary - boys basketball team played their first game on Feb. 27, 1914 in what is now the Riley Center for the Arts. Also, according to BBA records, the girls program had begun at least by 1916.
Two years after the inception of the boys program, the team went 7-1. In those days the team used to travel to away games by train, which it is believed may be why so few games were played during the 1916 season. How the team may have performed at the state level is also a question since the state tournament did not begin until 1922.
Over the years BBA has compiled a state tournament record of 52-44. Their first appearance in the state tournament came in 1927 where they lost to Proctor 45-30.
The Bulldogs made the tournament every year from 1929-1932. It was in 1932 that BBS picked up their first tournament win over Winooski.
After competing in the tournament in 1937, BBS experienced a 19 year drought before returning to the state tournament in 1956. Two years later - when the country was in the early stages of the Vietnam War - the "Cinderella Bulldogs" won the first of nine state titles the boys would win over the past century by defeating Northfield at the Middlebury College Field House.
The boys program reached a height in the sixties and seventies under coaches George Allard and Dave Blake. In 1969 - Allard's first year as coach - the Bulldogs pulled off a big upset by defeating Proctor on the road, 66-54. The loss broke the Phantoms 56 game winning streak that had spanned more than two years and the victory served as a catalyst for the program.
"It definitely was a turning point for the program because prior to that there was not a great deal of success that was happening as far as statewide goals," said Allard. "That seemed to turn the tide as far as the attitude of the kids coming into the program."
From 1975-1981 the boys team won five consecutive Class I state championships, compiling a record of 103-11 in the process.
Allard coached the three state championship teams from 1975-78, which included Alex Johnson, Nathan Choice, Dave Shehadi and Angel Rivera. Johnson was one of four boys in the school's history to score over 1,000 points in his career and the only BBA athlete - and one of only nine in the state - to record over 1,000 rebounds in his high school career. Choice was also a 1,000 point scorer along with Glenn Squires (1982-85) and Damon Dudley-Macon (1993-96).
Following Allard's departure after the 1977-78 season, the Bulldogs continued to roll and by 1981 they had won their second consecutive title under Blake's leadership. The following year the team moved to Division II where over the next two years they also won state championships under Blake.
During those championship years, the boys basketball team had become so popular that Allard said often times if people did not arrive midway through the junior varsity game they would have trouble getting into E.H. Henry Gym - which holds a capacity of 850 people.
"We use to have a lot of older folks who used to attend the games," said Johnson. "We woke the town up and I think a lot of the older people found something to do. Basketball became something to do on a Friday night and it was a joy and pleasure to be a part of that for sure."
Even when the team would make road trips, Allard and Shehadi - who won state titles with the team in 1976 and 1977 and is the current coach of the boys team - said that bus loads of people would follow them to away games. In some instances, they said, the stands were filled with more of their fans than the opposing team's - making nearly every game feel like a home game.
"The atmosphere and the support we had from the town and the students was unbelievable," said Shehadi. "There wasn't a lot going on back then it was a big deal in town. They would rent out buses, the townsfolk would rent out buses, and follow us for our away games. It was really amazing."
The boys program - which is 9-1 in championship games - won their last title in 2006 under coach Seth Rice. Last year under Shehadi, the boys went 18-2, losing in the DII state championship game to undefeated Vergennes. So far this year the team is 14-0 under Shehadi in spite of significant turnover, which included four of the team's starting five players from last year's roster.
The girls program has also had its share of success. Over the course of the years they have gone 26-21 in the state with a 4-0 record in the title games. The program won its first state championship during the 1979-80 season. Two years later Steve Houghton took over as coach and guided the team to two more state championships in the 1982-83 season and the 1985-86 season.
"We were highly successful during '81 and '91. We won six or seven league championships and we won two state championships," said Houghton. "State championships certainly are special. They're the equivalent of a high school Super Bowl so those two championships were probably my most memorable [moments] of [my] entire career."
Houghton also coached two of the school's three athletes who scored over 1,000 points for their career in Jennifer Roosevelt and Dawn King.
Melissa Rice, who was a member of the 1982 and 1986 teams that won titles for the program, indicated there was something unique in being part of the program.
"I think it's pretty special to be a part of a state championship team, any state championship team and part of the basketball program" said Rice. "It was wonderful to share that experience even when you weren't on a state championship team, to be part of the team."
Over the course of his coaching career with BBA - which included two stints from 1981-91 and 1997-99 - Houghton recorded 176 wins.
His brother, Jeff Houghton, coached both the boys and the girls at different points in his coaching career and is the only coach to record an undefeated season (24-0) when he led the 2008-2009 girls basketball team to a 51-43 victory over Lamoille to win the state championship.
Jeff Houghton coached the girls team from 2007-2010 and he coached the boys program from 1990-94, earning 53 wins with the boys and going 57-9 with girls teams. He also coached the only other 1,000 point scorer for the girls program in Jenna Hoffman.
In an interview on Monday, Jeff Houghton indicated that it was special to not only lead the undefeated girls team, but to be part of the programs' history.
"It's great to be included in the history of Burr and Burton Academy," said Jeff Houghton. "To go undefeated in any sport and then obviously win the state title with it with a group of kids that worked so hard, that's both rewarding and just a phenomenal feat."
On Friday, the Burr and Burton Academy boys basketball team will host Brattleboro beginning at 7 p.m. A celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the basketball program will take place at the game.
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