Packing The Power Of Four High Schools, Bullets Hope To Fire Into Postseason Football
Backed by fans from four high schools in two counties, the Fairfax-Lamoille Bullets play their last football game of the regular season on Saturday. If they make it past Otter Valley, the team will go into the postseason with a perfect 8-0 record.Football practice in the Franklin County town of Fairfax doesn't start right after school. One reason for that is more than half the team has to drive there from one of the three high schools in Lamoille County.
Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax plays in Division III, also known as the small schools division. The school has long bolstered its roster with players from Lamoille Union High School, which didn't have a team of its own.
In Vermont, high school teams can take up to seven players from other schools that don't field a football team. But a couple of years ago, Fairfax decided that so-called member-to-member agreement wasn't enough.
So BFA Fairfax entered what's called a cooperative agreement with Lamoille, meaning the football team is supported by both schools and there is no cap on the number of players from either school.
Head coach Craig Sleeman said there's about an equal number of Lamoille and BFA players on this year's roster.
Plus, according to Sleeman, the move to a cooperative team also freed up those seven member-to-member spots for kids from other schools that don't have a football team – like Stowe High School and Peoples Academy, in Morrisville.
"We have, right now, four Stowe players and two Peoples players playing under the member-to-member agreement," Sleeman explained.
All together there are 31 players. Despite the fact that fewer kids are playing football than a decade ago, Sleeman said by reaching out to other small schools the program is slowly growing.
"We couldn't compete in Division I or anything with those type numbers," Sleeman said of the program size, "but we're hoping to continue to grow."
Sleeman said there are a number of factors that have led to the Bullets' success on the field this season: athleticism, competitive drive and good leadership from the four senior co-captains. Two captains are from Fairfax, one is from Lamoille and one is from Stowe.
"A lot of us value this practice time with each other because of being from other schools," said Noah Brock, a captain from Fairfax. "We don't get to see them all day in school where we're all from, so the diversity helps because we all get to come to practice excited to see all these other faces."
The other Fairfax captain is starting quarterback Cam Meunier, and he agreed the team's geographic diversity is one of its strengths.
"Our whole entire line is from other towns, and … me and Noah really appreciate that because we've got the big boys on the line," he said. "Yeah, they help us. We love 'em."
Given that some players drive 45 minutes or even an hour to get to practice, there's a strong commitment to the team. Co-Captain Ty Garon makes the trip to Fairfax every day from Stowe.
"It's easier to commit to things when you're super passionate about it," Garon said. "And it helps us to play as a unit too, and a family, when everyone's just as passionate as you are."
Co-Captain Gage Brown lives in Johnson and attends Lamoille Union. He also thinks of his team in Fairfax like family.
"I'm close with every single one of these kids," said Brown. "It's really special. And football's a big part of the Fairfax community. Everyone comes out to our games, and it's just — it's a really great environment and I love it here."
Brown added they're in a good position to do something big for that community this season.
"We're gonna try to bring this team a championship," he said. "We're 7-0, hopefully 8-0 this weekend. And then, hopefully we're going to roll through the playoffs and we'll be hoisting a trophy over our heads by the end of the season."
The Bullets host Otter Valley under the lights in Fairfax Saturday night, which Coach Sleeman said will also be a send-off for the team's seven seniors, graduating from three different high schools.