Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Vignettes from Vermont: Of Corse!

BENNINGTON -- Vanessa Corse walks into Fiddlehead at Four Corners yesterday lugging several jugs and glass bottles of Vermont maple syrup because the art gallery decided to sell the sweet stuff ...

Art Gallery Dude engages Vanessa for about 20 minutes because one, she's sweet and shy yet easy to talk up and two, because she came all the way down the mountain from Whitingham, and that's a place close to AGD's heart:

BRATTLEBORO, FALL '99 -- I'm assistant sports editor of the Reformer rag.

The sports editor covers Brattleboro High and I cover the other 6 high schools in our area spanning both sides of the Connecticut River: Bellows Falls, Leland & Gray, Green Mountain, Wilmington, Whitingham and Hinsdale. Hinsdale is in New Hampshire. People go to Hinsdale to bet on dog races. "And there goes the Colonel!"

I love covering all of the schools for their unique, quirky personalities, but the rides I look forward to the most are the ones that wind, twist and curl up Old Lady 9, to the top, about halfway between Brattleboro and Bennington ...

Many days and nights I stay on 9 past the White House then pass "the spine of Vermont" and slowly pull up to, and make a left into, the Wilmington High parking lot.

Wilmington High. Year in and year out Wilmington is of Vermont's best little schools for sports, mainly soccer and basketball. There is no football team so most boys grow up playing soccer in the pipeline, and by the ninth grade they're usually ready for varsity.

The two best sports teams in Wilmington revolve around the same guy, Buddy Hayford, athletic director and head coach for the champion boys soccer program ...

Buddy Hayford addresses the team after a playoff win in 2000
(Joey Kulkin photo)

Wilmington striker Fran Barone (left)
and Black River's Casey Valente battle for a 50-50 ball
during a semifinal in Ludlow in 1999.  Refs called a foul
on Barone and the Presidents converted the restart
from near midfield into a goal to win 1-0.
 It was an awful hometown call.
(Joey Kulkin photo)

... and the champion girls hoops team ...

Wilmington girls hoops: Always as good as it got
(Joey Kulkin photo)

Back in '99, the Wilmington girls soccer team won the D-4 title then won it again the next three years, meaning Chris Walling starts his coaching career as a 4-time state champion. Buddy Hayford enjoyed the same success as girls hoops coach. If the Warriors didn't win state titles back then they played in the title game, or short of that made the semifinals at the old brick building on the hill in Barre. It's called the Barre Auditorium, or The Aud. Thing about Buddy is that he's an intense talent who could've coached bigger and better yet chose to stay home on the mountaintop. There's a certain charm to those kind of hometown heroes.

So anyway, Wilmington in those days is a great place for a sportswriter because the Warriors usually kick ass. That's what they did atop the mountain between Bennington and Brattleboro.

The other side of the mountain is a special place on earth, too, where lots of brothers, sisters, grandparents and cousins of Wilmingtonians live. Or vice-versa. Maybe Whitingham used to be the all-encompassing place to live and folks began to sprawl into Wilmington a hundred years ago. Who knows. Either way, Whitingham is a charming little piece of turf.

The days and nights I don't go to Wilmington are the days and nights I make a left onto Route 100 and drive the twisted road down into Jacksonville ...

... and 6 or 7 miles later at the T at the bottom I make a right at the Jacksonville Store, drive past the birthplace sign paying homage to the founder of Salt Lake City ...

Jacksonville Country Store across the street;
Whitingham also is the birthplace to the man
who founded Manhattan, Kansas
(Google Commons photo)

... then double back up into the hillside till I reached Whitingham.

Whitingham feels like 1793, or Walton Mountain. It's just different. Charming, different.

Whitingham High plays in Division IV for Vermont's tiniest schools, and in 1999 the boys teams are stuck in a down cycle. They struggle to win more than a game or two per sport. A few years ago, people say, the hoops team had a 6-foot-5 kid with a Biblical first name (Jacob maybe?) and a strong game. In fact, they say, one of the recent boys teams made state quarterfinals or semifinals.

But right now the boys who play soccer, basketball and baseball don't win many games, and in 1999 state titles are the last thing anyone on this side of the mountain expect from them.

On the flip side, I'd take just about any Whitingham boy to win a snowmobile race.

I always try to take a kick-ass photo of a Whitingham boys "moment" and pitch it to the news editor for A1 consideration. 

The clouds aligned one afternoon ...

... the picture complemented an A1 story about Vermont's Act 60 debate over property taxes and education spending. Whitingham is smack-dab in the middle of the fight so having a bright Whitingham photo alongside the Act 60 story makes a strong A1 package. Not to mention it's probably the first time Whitingham baseball has made the front page of the Reformer -- or any Vermont rag -- so this is why I jump at any chance to drive to Whitingham, to give these forgotten athletes a little exposure. Because everyone up there knows that 9.999 times out of 10 it's Wilmington Wilmington Wilmington Wilmington Wilmington Wilmington Wilmington. And that's not a dig on Wilmington. 

Whitingham High baseball gets a rare spotlight today.

The baseball photo above also speaks to the aesthetics of Whitingham athletes on so many levels. Justin Bartlett is squatty, beefy and pudgy while the Thayer third baseman is tall, great bone structure, muscular, angular and agile -- a ballplayer's ballplayer.

Back to soccer ...

Here is Whitingham boys soccer vis-a-vis other Vermont teams I've been able to capture. 

The first moment takes place circa '95. I'm at the Bennington Banner covering Arlington High -- then one of Vermont's top 5 soccer programs coached by John Werner ...

... a high-flying Arlington Eagle about to head one into the back. The two helpless Whitingham fullbacks and late-charging keeper had no chance, and this is routine.

The second example takes place four years later when I'm a Reformer sportswriter ...

When the Whitingham coach tells his players to slide tackle they take it to heart and pummel the poor guy. One fullback is ramming the striker's head into his crotch and I'm not even sure what No. 10 is doing while the keeper scurries to cover the ball.

Good times. It's the funniest soccer photo I'll ever take. Can't beat the humor.

A third experience with Whitingham boys soccer is Senior Day against Mount St. Joseph on the lush yet soggy expanse behind the school. It's the worst soccer team I'll ever cover, between teams with a combined 2-22-1 record. The Reformer sports department -- all two of us -- commit to cover all of our teams' Senior games if at all possible.

I write ...

It was a sour ending for seniors Tom Hermann and Tony Rinaldi, as Coach Chris Prenoveau said the Trojans most likely will not earn a playoff berth into the Division IV playoffs. "There's probably a lot of frustration on their part," Prenoveau said of Hermann and Rinaldi, who have played three years on the varsity. Unless Whitingham Athletic Director Fran Alsieri decides otherwise, the Trojans' season will end 1-12.

I need to know who Whitingham beat for its only win that season.

The Whitingham girls soccer team, which beat MSJ 4-1, headlined that "Senior Sendoff" package. Here's a closer look at the photo ...

... a goal by freshman Gigi Cunningham during a 4-goal barrage in the first half.

Earlier that season I snap a picture of the glitter-faced girls and pitch it for a "standalone" on A1. 

To my surprise he uses it ...

... and the "Glitter Girls" are born.

Understand that Whitingham athletes making the front page of the Brattleboro Reformer doesn't happen often, so this picture of several fresh-faced Whitingham girls thrills just about everyone on that side of the mountain. I don't know its full impact till hoops season.

Hoops season at Whitingham ...

Whitingham's "gym" is straight out of 1931. 

I call it the Tile Factory because the of the linoleum-tiled floor. Grime covers the 1950's windows that you open and close with a long, hooked stick. 

The Tile Factory serves as cafeteria, theater and hall for Town Meeting.

1972 Whitingham Town Meeting (Deerfield Valley News photo)

Something neat happens during the 1999-2000 season. Marc "Hollywood" Colford starts his first year as girls hoops coach with four freshmen on the roster: Gigi Cunningham, Ashley Sprague, Bekky Honkala, Sarah Mandracchia. Whitingham doesn't have a JV team but these freshmen would have led the jayvees to 50-point wins every night. They're going to be state champs one day, I thought.

Despite storm warnings one night I drive up the mountain one night and walk into the Tile Factory only to see players straggling around the court, out of uniform. Folding chairs aren't set up for either team. No scorer's table. Bleachers pushed in. Other team won't risk a stormy drive and postpones and no one blames them. Vermont winters.

I hang around an hour and chat up Colford and his players to get a vibe for the mountaineers, ask them inane questions like what they want to be when they grow up.

Lawyer, teacher, doctor, astronaut ...

... then the 6-foot freshman pipes up and answers "world dominator" -- and Bekky Honkala's answer is funny 13 years later.

Bekky Honkala (31)

Bekky Honkala with the layup

Here's where the "GLITTER GIRLS" moment comes into play.

I walk the halls that night. GO, GLITTER GIRLZ! signs and banners are everywhere. The "GLITTER GIRLS" photo had become their calling card apparently. Signs and banners appear at every game. You don't go out of your way to coin a meme but you always enjoy when a school takes something you've written and runs with it, adopts it. Glitter Girlz! I can dig it. They certainly did.

The Glitter Girlz, powered by the fab freshmen, finish the regular season 13-7. They must play their first playoff "home" game at Wilmington because Whitingham's Tile Factory is not kosher in the eyes of the Vermont Principals Association.

Whitingham parents and fans plaster GLITTER GIRLS! posters all over Wilmington's bandbox before the Glitter Girls beat Whitcomb in a battle of whits. The final horn blares and freshman redhead Ashley Sprague jumps into arms of a teammate for a hug like they just won the state title. Click ...

Joey Kulkin photo

The picture ran in the paper.

I leave the Reformer a few months later and stop following the Glitter Girlz. I'm told they make the semis again in '02 and then there would be no more Glitter Girlz because ... well, keep reading.

IT'S NEARLY 14 YEARS AFTER THE FALL OF 1999 and I'm Art Gallery Dude, and yesterday morning and I'm talking to a sweet, kind, gentle woman who had just lugged jugs and bottles of maple syrup from Corse Farm in Whitingham.

Vanessa shared a sweet little love story tinged with glitter.

"My parents had a house up here in Whitingham for their vacation house," the native of Buffalo began in a reserved tone, "and my parents' farm adjoined the Corse property." Her parents retired to the farm and Vanessa, 19 or 20, moved with them. "I had horses and bought hay for my horse from the Corses, and that's how Ray and I got together."

That was 1979. Ray and Vanessa Corse married in '80. Sweet Whitingham love indeed.

Soon after Vanessa explains her knowledge of the sapping process at Corse Farm but half of my mind thinks back to those road trips into 1793 Vermont and those experiences with the Glitter Girls.

Late in the day I dig through my archives -- EUREKA! -- and find the origin ...

I couldn't remember how "Glitter Girls" began. I thought the meme began during hoops season so it was nice to dig into a box of archives I thought I'd lost forever and find a bunch of Whitingham clips I thought I'd never see again. Whitingham is no more. No Wilmington, either. They merged into Twin Valley High to start the 2002-03 year. High schoolers go to Wilmington, Whitingham gets the lower grades. That arrangement will change soon: a new building near Wilmington Pass Road in Whitingham, which is near Corse Farm, will house the high schoolers (scaring the bejesus out of Vanessa Corse because of the increase in traffic, speeding, drugs). Meanwhile, the lower grades will learn in Wilmington.

I skim the cutline in the photo above and notice the last name. Of Corse.

AND, OF COURSE,  THIS JUST HAPPENED: A Long Islander by the name of Stuart Kravette walks into Fiddlehead and tells AGD that he loves the music he hears.

Grateful Dead: Stanley Theater 9/27/72.

AGD notices how much Stuart Kravette from Commack, Long Island, New York, looks like he could be one of his dad's long-lost brothers if, indeed, his dad had a long-lost brother or three; incidentally, AGD's dad's middle name is Stuart. Come on!

Stuart says the owners of South Street Cafe sent him here after he asked about buying Vermont maple syrup. South Street Cafe sent you? Here? Really?

"They said you sold 200-year-old maple syrup."

"Well, Corse Farm is 145 years old," AGD said.

AGD shows Stuart a picture of the Glitter Girls and then the Long Islander taps his wallet to pay for a jug of maple syrup from a really old farm in Whitingham.

Ever wonder how maple syrup is born? Click HERE

Fiddlehead at Four Corners, 338 Main Street, Bennington