BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Union High School football program is returning to Division I.
Last Friday, Vermont Principals Association Associate Executive Director Lauren Thomas confirmed that there would be a statewide realignment, explaining the VPA has decided to assign football divisions based on the total number of enrolled males per school. Most sports throughout the state follow this same format, but football has used a different system in the past.
The switch to male population means both Brattleboro and Mount Anthony Union High School (MAU) will compete in Division I next fall.
The decision created some excitement among school and program officials. Not only does the move up to Division I create a new challenge for the program, which has been competing in Division II for the past three years, it brings a change to the schedule that will see Brattleboro playing some familiar opponents.
“It’s an opportunity to reestablish some of those rivalries, I would say, or games that were important to our school, and will become important to our school,” said Brattleboro Coach Chad Pacheco. “For me … this is a test. This is a huge challenge and I’m excited for it. If we can go and beat some of these teams, that speaks ... volumes about our football program. Again, we’ve got to put in the work and we’ve got to do it, but we’re excited about the challenge.”
As part of its schedule, Brattleboro will now be playing teams such as Rutland and Hartford. Also returning to the Colonels’ schedule, because the realignment allows for more geographically-oriented opponents, will be Keene, N.H., which Pacheco said has been a significant game in previous years. The interstate rivalry between the two schools dates back to 1894, but they haven’t met on the gridiron (other than scrimmages) since 2010.
“I think that brings a whole different dynamic because they’re so close,” said Pacheco of the matchup against Keene. “When I was playing, we played for a trophy (The Darrell Sawyer/KHS Boosters Trophy). We’re excited to bring that aspect back. It’s another trophy game for us. I think it will be very cool for the two communities to reestablish that. That game happened for a long time and it was unfortunate that it had to stop because of scheduling … but to have that back on our schedule, to play them, it’s huge for our community. It will be huge for their community. It’s just as important to us now as the Mount Anthony game. We got two trophy games in the middle of the season back-to-back this year.”
One of the challenges that the program will face is an increased level of competition, according to Brattleboro Athletic Director Chris Sawyer.
“I think in Division I there’s more depth and the challenge will be can we answer the bell every week,” Sawyer said. “I think Division I every week is going to be a challenge and then just keeping your team prepared and healthy. That will be the biggest challenge I think.”
Sawyer said not only are the schools Brattleboro will be competing against bigger, but they typically have larger coaching staffs, and more resources to dedicate towards their programs. In addition, those programs usually have more varied offenses and defenses, which will make games more difficult, he said.
Despite some of the additional challenges that come with playing in Division I, Pacheco said he believes the students will rise to the occasion.
“I think it’s a challenge for us as a program, but … we strive to be known as one of the better programs in the state football-wise, and we work toward that every single year,” Pacheco said. “We just hope that we put out a good product every Friday night and I don’t doubt that our kids will. Our kids are extremely hard working. They’re dedicated to their craft and they’re great kids.”
Division I will now feature 11 teams: Champlain Valley, Essex, Burlington/South Burlington, BFA St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Mount Anthony, Brattleboro, Rutland, Burr and Burton, Middlebury and Hartford.
Both Middlebury and Hartford petitioned to play up to Division I and were granted access, taking the spots of two schools with a larger male population — Mount Mansfield and North Country — who will now play in Division II.
Bellows Falls and Fair Haven were Division III schools based on male population, but both schools were accepted into Division II after petitioning.
Additionally, five separate “leagues” have been created by the VPA. Teams will play each of their league mates once.
Brattleboro’s league consists of the Colonels with: MAU, Middlebury, Rutland, BBA, and Hartford.