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Legion Ball Strikes Out In Windsor, Woodstock

In 2011, unfavorable circumstances prompted rivals to unite as the Woodstock Post 24 and Windsor Post 25 American Legion baseball teams combined players and resources to save their respective seasons.

Yet after two summers of unity, not even the best intentions could prevent both squads from dissipating.

Neither Windsor nor Woodstock will field an American Legion team this summer, each a casualty of scarce participation and, in Windsor’s case, funding.

With limited support from Post 25, Windsor would have had to hold fundraisers to cover equipment and umpire fees for the second straight year, a daunting prospect for a program that has struggled with numbers and commitment in recent years.

The numbers issue has plagued Woodstock as well, as both towns contributed just five or six regulars to last season’s combined unit. While Legion rules allow for up to 18 players per roster, Windsor-Woodstock carried fewer than a dozen to most games despite starting the year with 17.

Windsor-Woodstock’s woes last year reached a tipping point during the last weekend of the season, when it forfeited a doubleheader at Bennington Post 13. Coaches had to pay a forfeiture fee out of pocket after too many players backed out on short notice.

“We lost to Brattleboro that Tuesday, and it knocked us out of (playoff contention),” Hingston recalled. “All of a sudden, it seemed like everyone on the team was telling me they couldn’t make the Bennington trip because of (family) vacations. Because of the tiebreaker rules, (Post 13) needed those games under their belt and were counting on us to play. It put the coaches in a tough spot. It was borderline embarrassing.”

Even if sufficient funding were in place, both Windsor coach Ryan Hingston and Woodstock’s Butch Wardwell estimated a low turnout — or worse — if the team were to attempt a season this year.

“We only had 11 guys last year who would show up every night,” said Hingston, who led Post 25 for three summers. “Guys show up and if they’re not playing a lot right off the bat, they basically stop coming.”

Hartford Post 26 coach Kurt DeVoid extended invitations to players from both towns to participate in his team’s recent tryouts, but no one from either attended. One Woodstock player, Dougie Avellino, is expected to suit up for Bellows Falls Post 37, the Hartford coach said.

“I sent out emails to coaches all around the Upper Valley — Oxbow, Rivendell, Thetford, Woodstock, Windsor — but we didn’t get anyone from Windsor or Woodstock,” said DeVoid, whose own team contended with a lack of post funding several years ago. “We have a young team, but we’re going to have a full roster.”

Wardwell said Woodstock would have likely returned six if there were a Windsor-Woodstock team this season, but most of them won’t play now that they’d have to go elsewhere.

“Three of our guys just graduated and are entering college, so they’re in their last year of eligibility,” Wardwell said. “They’d play if it were in town, but they don’t want to travel.”

A 1975 Woodstock Union High School graduate, Wardwell played for a Post 26 team that attracted a healthy turnout every summer.

“We always had 18 on the roster,” he said. “We even had six or seven from Lebanon and Hanover every year, because it was before Lebanon had a team.”

Wardwell suspects the tendency for more high school athletes to specialize in one sport, as well as other summertime options, have contributed to Legion baseball’s numbers crunch in small towns.

Chester Post 67 also disbanded its team this year, reducing the number of teams in Vermont American Legion’s Southern Division to seven.

“In the ’70s, playing baseball was the thing to do in the summer,” Wardwell said. “Today, kids have so many options for athletics. They can play basketball in the summer, they can play soccer. ... There are all kinds of camps and things that make it hard for them to commit to baseball.”

Both teams carried fewer than a dozen players three years ago, propelling Wardwell and Hingston to combine their teams beginning in 2011. Alternating practices between Windsor and Woodstock, the unit went 9-7 two years ago and missed the postseason on a tiebreaker with Rutland.

Last year, the team struggled through a four-win season while battling its participation dilemma and financial issues.

“I ended up paying a lot of my own money to keep things going,” Hingston said. “I’d have guys say they wanted to play, but that they didn’t have gas money (to get to a road game). So I’d give them gas money, but those expenses add up quick. After a while, you just can’t do it anymore.”

While the immediate future doesn’t appear promising, Hingston is hopeful a Post 25 team will resurface.

“It’s just going to take better commitment from both the kids and the parents,” he said. “The way things are right now, having a team just isn’t possible.”

Wardwell, who has coached various summer league baseball teams for more than two decades, has similar hopes for Woodstock.

“It’s pretty devastating, not having Legion season,” he said. “I’ve been coaching baseball a long time. It’s just not something you like to see.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.