The Eagle Dome sounds like a place where majestic raptors soar, with enough room to move somewhat freely, but within confines. There should always be eagles there.
It is instead a small, delightfully quirky gymnasium on the campus of the soon-to-closed Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. And when Warrensburg’s Brittany Frasier walked inside it recently on a glorious day before spring actually arrived, the Eagle in her surveyed the setting, smiled and shared memories.
Memories are all Frasier will have after the current semester. The Eagles are being let loose, as are the Mountaineers and the Fighting Saints. With the closing of Green Mountain, Southern Vermont and the College of St. Joseph at academic year’s-end, Vermont has suffered more than its share of bad news. Students must weigh whether they wish to transfer to another school, and if so, where? And for the student-athletes, they must weigh whether they will continue their chosen sport.
Fort Ann’s Jeremy Johnson, a sophomore baseball player at CSJ, and Frasier, a sophomore women’s basketball player at Green Mountain, both found out the news their schools would be closing while their sport was in-season.
While more true of Division I athletics, not like these Division III and United States Collegiate Athletic Association schools, the old adage is that your coach may not be there all four years.
But when they enrolled, Frasier and Johnson certainly thought their colleges would.
‘Rough few weeks’
“I thought it was a (stable) private college because it’s been around so long,” Frasier said. “I don’t think I should worry about having to look ahead, so it was kind of something new and something I didn’t expect to happen because I fell in love with the place.”
James Thivierge, the interim athletic director at Green Mountain, said the first inkling students, staff and faculty got that the college was in trouble came in December. But on Jan. 20, the announcement was made, leaving Frasier and her teammates to deal with their future as well as their present.
“At first,” Frasier said, “I was, ‘Oh, how do I go about this?’ I can’t reach out to coaches until my season is over because we were still playing basketball. At the same time, I was kind of like, ‘OK, you need to forget about it to stay in the moment for what you’re doing.’ Basketball was still happening and you could tell everyone was overwhelmed with it. It was kind of ruining the flow of how we were playing.
“When I first found out the news, I was so emotional,” Frasier said. “It was a rough few weeks on campus.”
The Eagles went on a four-game losing streak after the news broke. They won two out of their next five before ending their season on Feb. 21 with a home game against Davis College, a team that had qualified for the USCAA National Tournament. The Eagles closed their Dome on a high note, winning 68-51, with Frasier having seven points, four steals and two rebounds.
“The last game here was probably the best I’ve ever seen,” Thivierge said. “From the emotions of the players, the emotions of the fans, the atmosphere, the energy that the team brought. We played a team that was 18-2 that was heading to the tournament in their division and we beat them by almost 20 points.”
With some time to think things over, Frasier is leaning toward attending nearby Castleton University — one of the several schools Green Mountain has a teach-out agreement with.
“They each have their own agreements, but essentially they’d accept all credits and try to get as close to (our) tuition number as possible so that students stay on track for their graduation and they’re not asked to pay grandiose amounts,” Thivierge said.
Frasier said she thought about continuing basketball, but she also is weighing her academic load, so she’s uncertain whether she will try out. She might also try out for softball. There is one Castleton coach, however, who has already reached out to her: rugby coach Frank Graziano.
“I have never played rugby in my life, but I did play tackle football in high school, so it’s a similar thing,” Frasier said. “He said if you can dive on a hardwood floor and tear your shoulder, which I did, or you can dive into a set of bleachers, which I have done multiple times, then you shouldn’t have a problem diving on grass,” Frasier said.
Frasier also plans to join the National Guard, so that has to be factored in. But whatever her future holds, she wouldn’t trade her experience at Green Mountain or the Eagle Dome, a gymnasium with a mosaic on the outside wall near the entrance, windows on three sides — a screen covering one window because the sun used to shine in players’ eyes during afternoon games — and an all-wooden roof that Thivierge swears makes 30 people sound like 300.
“It’s going to be very heartbreaking after this year,” Frasier said. “This college, even though I’ve only been here two years, has meant a lot to me, especially the people I’ve met here, the coaches I’ve gotten to work with who are pretty great, and just the atmosphere in general.”
‘I was ready for it’
Students, faculty and staff at CSJ, in Rutland, Vermont, got warning from the president that the school was in trouble last spring. In August, athletic director and baseball coach Cameron Curler said, the school was put on academic probation.
“But it was a two-year probation period, so we felt like we still had those two years,” Curler said. “Then in November, the New England Commission of Higher Education chose to pull our accreditation effective this August, but we had until April 1 to submit information to appeal.”
The school announced on March 22 that it would close after the current semester.
Johnson obviously didn’t have concerns about the college’s financial future when he enrolled, noting its low tuition being the primary draw.
“I came back this year, giving the college hope, but last year I don’t think they handled everything correctly in the spring,” Johnson said. “I think they scared kids away from the school, which didn’t help at all this year.”
The Fighting Saints saw their baseball team — which has won the USCAA Division II National Championship in 2016 and 2017 — drop from 34 players last season to just 16 this season.
CSJ also has a number of institutions on its teach-out agreement. Johnson is also considering Castleton, as well as some New York colleges. Whether the catcher/outfielder plays baseball depends on where he goes.
“I’ve kind of been preparing since last year, just in case time was falling short for CSJ. Even when I got the news, I wasn’t really shocked by it. I was ready for it,” Johnson said.
Ultimately, maybe nothing would have helped CSJ, but Johnson feels the college didn’t tell the students everything it knew.
“They were just giving us an outer shell,” he said. “Everybody started looking down on the school and (students) felt they brought us here for no reason and they were hiding information from us. But I think a lot of kids wanted to find ways to help, see if they could find ways to help raise money for the school.”
Curler, like Thivierge, has had to help all student-athletes transition. Curler reminds students that their transcript is most important in the process.
“Jeremy has some good options,” Curler said. “When he talks about preparation, that’s just because he did his part in the classroom. It hasn’t happened yet, but at the end of the semester he’ll be named an Academic All-American. When you have all A’s and B’s, you have more options as far as transferring. Because our teach-out option is great, but then if you look into other institutions, most of the time only your A’s and B’s will transfer.”
“Most of the kids on the team have good spirits about it and want to do as best they can,” Johnson said. “They know what’s at stake not only for their academics but their sports careers, too.”
The Southern Vermont athletic department did not wish to participate in this story.