It may not have been the World Cup, but all the elements of “the beautiful game” were on proud display on a brisk fall afternoon: touch passes, a give and go, corner kicks, movement without the ball, running to open space, counter-attacks, shots, saves and parent-fans applauding enthusiastically. On the field, Flood Brook soccer players dressed in orange, matched up against a team in dark blue jerseys from both Manchester Elementary Middle School (MEMS) and The Dorset School (TDS).
Boys and Girls Soccer isn’t the only opportunity for athleticism and team spirit for Taconic & Green (T&G) middle school students. In addition to soccer, there’s Field Hockey at MEMS during September and October. Boys and girls basketball at all three T&G middle schools during the winter and boys baseball and girls softball is a spring tradition. Then there’s the opening of the new track and field facility at the Manchester Recreational Center, creating another sporting opportunity for middle school athletes who prefer to test their athleticism through running, jumping and throwing.
The T&G interscholastic sports are open for all students with competition from schools located across Southern Vermont. The best part: No tryouts, no players cut, everyone plays.
“You have some kids who have played a sport for years and are already set for the transition to high school sports,” says MEMS Athletic Director Pat Whalen. “Then you always have some players who are trying a sport for the first time. Middle school is where they can learn and work on the fundamentals if they choose to compete at the next level in the years ahead.”
The Dorset School AD, Elizabeth Morgan, looks at sports as an opportunity to build life skills that go beyond the games. “Sports can be an opportunity to learn the value of teamwork, practice, and perseverance,” she says. “You can try new things and learn that sometimes it’s okay to fail. You can develop self-confidence and hopefully gain benefits from a positive social experience.”
Schools also offer intramural sports that serve as a bridge between the traditional seasons. Between soccer and the start of basketball at TDS, for example, there’s coed volleyball in November. Floor Hockey in the school gymnasium in March, meanwhile, connects basketball to baseball.
The three T&G AD’s — Whalen, Morgan and Sarah Kiefer at Flood Brook — collaborate to keep the athletic program in shape. “We work together finding coaches, referees, scheduling games and hosting events,” says Kiefer. “When one or two schools can’t field a complete team, we combine the players, like this year in soccer with MEMS and Dorset.”
“While MEMS is the only school with field hockey and track and field, we’re always willing to take on athletes in those sports from the other two schools.” Whalen said. “We’re all in this together.”
Middle school athletes in T&G communities are not confined to the school sports. They can participate in Fusion Soccer, ice hockey at Riley Rink, Equinox Lacrosse, Girls on the Run, and the Equinox Valley football program, to name a few. “We are fortunate to have a number of community based programs that also help our kids experience the benefits of athletics,” says Whalen. “Our athletes have plenty of activities and plenty of places to participate in them.”
While winning and losing games is not the primary focus of T&G Middle School sports, everyone knows the score. In that soccer contest between teams dressed in Orange and Blue, the Flood Brook girls came out on top with a victory that kept their dream of an undefeated season alive. The boys, meanwhile, clashed in a game that featured wind and sleeting rain, with Manchester braving the elements for a win.
“Those athletes who competed against each other today may be playing together in high school as early as next year,” Morgan said. “For others, it may be their last time participating in an official school game. Either way, they can all benefit from their time with T&G sports.”
Bob Niles handles communications for the Taconic & Green and Mettawee school districts.