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ARLINGTON - Declining numbers have caused varsity baseball and softball to be a thing of the past at two local schools.

Long Trail School in Dorset and Arlington Memorial High School both made the decision earlier this year to cut the varsity softball programs and move down to junior varsity schedules and at AMHS the sport of baseball has disappeared entirely.

According to Long Trail School Athletic Director Scott McGrath, the decision for softball to move to a JV schedule was made in February.

"Through December and January we were sort of holding rounds of interest meetings to see where we were at with numbers and then finally around February we called one last meeting to make a move," said McGrath. "It was among both players and former coaches and current coaches to go to the JV model, which is how we started 10 years ago."

McGrath said that somewhere between 12-14 softball players attended the meeting and voted to move to a JV schedule.

The school has never had a varsity baseball team because they do not have a standard baseball field.

According to both McGrath and Long Trail Head of School Steven Dear, there were several factors involved in the decision to eliminate the varsity softball program.

"We did see a slight decline in interest but the biggest factor was our students have a lot of demands on their time and going to a JV model allowed them to blend those other activities with playing softball," said Dear in written statement. "Many of our athletes are actors and they are typically rehearsing and competing at regionals, states and, this year, New Englands during the first few weeks of the spring season. They can now continue with drama and join the team later, something that would have been difficult as a varsity team."

Also, both McGrath and Dear said that Long Trail sends several of their 10th graders to Germany for two weeks in April into May as part of their exchange program - something that would cause the team to lose about one fourth of their roster, McGrath said.

"When we looked at the whole picture, the decline in numbers, the Vermont climate for the spring, the German trip and the cross over between theater and sports it just seemed to make sense for us to go to a JV model, which allowed us to pick as many games as we want to play," said McGrath. Though the team has not been as competitive as they would have liked in recent seasons, McGrath said that did not have a bearing on the decision to move to a JV schedule.

That was not the case in Arlington as AMHS Athletic Director Tim Stewart cited not being competitive as one of the reasons for moving to a JV schedule.

"Basically in three years we haven't been competitive. In my opinion, we haven't been competitive," said Stewart. "We haven't finished two of the years. We've had to forfeit games, which does not look good for us dealing with other Marble Valley League schools when you can't follow through on your schedule. Since we weren't competitive, it was time to take a different approach."

Not being competitive over the past few seasons was not the only reason the team moved to a JV schedule though. This year five freshmen and seven sophomores signed up for softball, but only one junior and one senior. In light of that, Stewart said he felt it made sense to play a JV schedule this year. The team will play 10 games this season as opposed to the 16 games played at the varsity level and will be coached by Eric Green and Glenn Sherman. They are expected to move back up to the varsity level next season.

However, that may not be the case for the baseball program in Arlington.

"There's just no interest in baseball right now. That's the bottom line," said Stewart. "We do have 12 kids at this point signed up for middle school baseball, which is encouraging, but it could take us two years to get varsity back with the way things are looking right now. Obviously we hope to get it back next year, but time will tell."

The decision marks the first time since 1986 that the Eagles - who were 6-8 last season under Green - have not fielded a baseball team, either varsity or junior varsity. The last time there was a break in varsity softball - if one has ever occurred - would have been before that, Stewart said.

The downward trend is based on a large graduating class last year - 29 students out of 101 total in grades 9 through 12. Two-thirds of the baseball team were seniors, Stewart said, and only five students signed up to play this season.

So Stewart went to the school board with the only option - drop the sports for a year.

"When we heard there weren't enough boys for baseball or girls for softball, [Stewart] recommended dropping to a JV [softball] program. We thought that was probably the way to go, so we agreed to that. There's a lot of competing interests," said Arlington school board chairman Dawn Hoyt.

Those other interests include track and golf. A total of 31 athletes - 22 on track and nine golfers - fill those sports nicely as participation has increased exponentially. In addition there are also the Arlington Soccer Club and AAU basketball.

"So people may look at the fact we don't have varsity baseball, but kids are still doing stuff, it's just baseball isn't what they chose," said Stewart. "We're a small school. Any time you have multiple offerings for a sport you have the potential for this right here."

Hoyt said the school budgets are expecting all the programs to have seasons, but any surplus at the end of the year goes back to the taxpayers.

While some athletes have decided to switch sports to track or golf (the only two spring varsity level sports remaining in Arlington), others have no place to play.

Vermont does have a Member-to-Member program, which is designed "to either provide a short-term fix for a school with low participation and/or provide an opportunity for a student-athlete from another school to participate on a team," according to the Vermont Principal Association bylaws. The VPA also cites that "no existing player can be displaced by one coming in from a sending school." The two closest schools, Mount Anthony and Burr and Burton Academy, are both Division I schools. At the early stage of tryouts and practice so far, both seem to have enough athletes in house.

Stewart said that he has had discussions with MAU athletic director Tim Brown about the possibility of Arlington baseball players playing on their team. However, a decision has yet to be reached, Stewart said.

"Tim e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago, he didn't know if they'd have a team," Brown said. "We have 14 kids playing baseball at MAU. Could we take a few more? Probably, but it could displace a kid from starting. It hasn't been strongly pursued."

Hoyt said the reciprocial agreement is possible, but unlikely. She said she sees the changes as a life lesson.

"As a parent, there's always competition, it's a dog-eat-dog world. I'd love to see my kids do whatever they want whenever they want, but it's not reality. Times change and we have to go with the times and trust the administration are making the best decisions," Hoyt said.

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