Friday December 21, 2012

BRANDON CANEVARI

Manchester Journal

DORSET -- Four years ago, rock climbing re-emerged at Long Trail School as a club sport. Now, steps are being taken to introduce it as a sport recognized by the Vermont Principals' Association.

"I approached the [VPA] and petitioned them to sanction rock climbing as a sport," said Steve Lulek, co-owner of the Green Mountain Climbing Center in Rutland. "The outcome of that meeting, because they were unsure of climbing as a sport, they're doing an exception to policy. For our January competition, the [VPA] director has been tasked [with interviewing], at least as I understand it, kids, parents and schools to see if this is a legitimate activity, if there is legitimate interest."

Long Trail is not the only school in the state with a rock climbing program. According to Lulek, eight schools participate at the facility in Rutland. He also has a gym in Quechee and between the two, there are a dozen high schools and 14 junior high schools participating; about 175 students.

It's a significant increase from a decade ago, when there were two schools -- Green Mountain High School and Otter Valley High School -- that had rock climbing programs with a total of 11 students.

If there is positive feedback, parents would then go before the VPA next November and petition for rock climbing to become a sport. If it's approved, Lulek said, it would be as a two-year exhibition activity.

"The problem is climbing has never been recognized as a sport or team event anywhere in the world. So, when people hear about this they don't understand it and most people run away from it," said Lulek. "Yet it continually is getting recognition and is growing in popularity for many, many reasons."

In the past year, private schools in Colorado have tried to create rock climbing as a sport, but it has not been very well organized, Lulek said.

At Long Trail, the sport initially began when a girl who was a serious climber attended the school, according to coach Simone Hughes. The program was eventually discontinued before resurfacing four years ago. Since then, a number of students have gravitated to the sport.

"We've got a big team," said Hughes. "[We have] six middle- schoolers and 18 high schoolers. For a school our size, that's a huge team We have more kids on our team than a school like Rutland."

Lulek said he came up with the concept of rock climbing as a team sport about 13 years ago, but that it took two years to figure out how to make it function like one.

The sport begins in November with a competition held each month. It culminates with a championship event in March.

During a competition, teams are given 90 minutes to come up with a route. Each climber has to submit their best four climbs to their coach and then the team turns in their top five climbs.

Scoring is determined by following the route. For example, if a climber were to successfully climb a 5-8 route they would receive 800 points; a 5-9, 900 points and so on and so forth. Generally speaking, while outdoor climbs can range from 5-1 to 5-15, Lulek said the difficulty is scaled down in most gyms and ranges from 5-5 to 5-13.

During competition, there are four rules that climbers must adhere to, Lulek said.

"You can't touch a wall that's not in [your climb,] a hold that's not in [your climb,] you can't be pulled by the rope to assist you in making the move on the climb and you cannot fall," said Lulek. "If you follow the path, get your head to the top, touch your head to the ceiling [and] touch for three seconds you are awarded the climb."

Paths are color coded, ranking their difficulty, and Hughes said her students are constantly striving to improve.

"They may start off with doing something simple and then a month later, they're two colors better," she said. "I notice my kids push themselves because they want to be better for themselves I find it's such a great sport because you're part of a team, but you're working toward your personal best."