Saturday February 9, 2013

AUSTIN DANFORTH

Assistant Sports Editor

It was only a matter of time before Bennington’s Mr. Soccer and Mr. Baseball joined the rest of the state’s all-time greats in the Vermont Principals’ Association Hall of Fame.

That time has come.

Longtime Mount Anthony Union High School coaches Birger Vigsnes and Al Plante, along with former Burr and Burton Academy assistant headmaster Steve Houghton are among the 12 members of the Class of 2013 to be inducted this spring.

Houghton, one of the original architects and former chair of the VPA Hall of Fame, is Burr and Burton’s first representative.

Vigsnes, the former MAU boys soccer coach and founder of the John James Tournament in 1969, and Plante, who recently retired after 34 years piloting the baseball team, become Mount Anthony’s sixth and seventh inductees, respectively, since the program began in 2003.

"It’s a great honor to get recognized by your peers," said Plante. "It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the school, the community, the kids and my fellow coaches.

"I’ve been associated with a lot of great people."

And two-thirds of the trio, to be enshrined on May 3 in Montpelier, break new ground.


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Vigsnes will join his son, Erik, a two-sport star in soccer and Nordic skiing honored in 2005, and Houghton will join his father, Dean, a decorated coach and administrator included in the inaugural Hall of Fame class, as the first father-son combinations.

"That’s special," Houghton said Friday. "There have been so many deserving individuals in Vermont over the years. It’s become a great thing."

Other Mount Anthony Hall of Famers include longtime boys basketball coach Dave Fredrickson, former Nordic ski coach Erlon "Bucky" Broomhall, wrestling coach Scott Legacy, and Nicole Levesque-Andres, a three-sport standout in soccer, basketball and softball.

Now 79, Vigsnes may have traced one of the longest paths of any VPA honoree. Before leading the Patriots to three state championships in 16 seasons (1969-1984) as boys soccer coach -- he also coached the school’s Nordic ski team from 1969-1973 -- he faced a daunting move to the United States from his native Norway at the age of 16.

"I didn’t want to come over. I was playing soccer and didn’t speak any English," Vigsnes said. "But I got along fine."

Vigsnes, who skied for St. Lawrence University before graduating in 1958, moved to Bennington in 1969 as a physical education teacher and soccer coach. In addition to coaching at Mount Anthony, where he compiled a 165-57 record, and introducing the John James Tournament that year, he also began the youth soccer program with Harry Dickie.

The impact has stood the test of time.

"I have been blessed to have a number of outstanding coaches, who profoundly influenced the part of my life which took me from coaching the U.S. Ski Team to coaching the Harvard College Nordic ski team, yet Coach Vigsnes stood above the rest for his sportsmanship, knowledge and his eagerness," wrote Bennington native Peter Graves in his nomination letter.

"He was graceful, never bitter or angry, just the most amazing role model of a coach," said Graves.

Others writing in recommendation to the VPA praised Vigsnes’ commitment to fitness, routinely leading and setting the pace on lengthy training runs, his loyalty and integrity.

"His accented voice was strong and it led his team through good times and bad," wrote Joe Rivers, a former player and now the Brattleboro boys basketball coach. "I can still hear the way he would pronounce the word, ‘character.’ It resonates with me to this day."

Still visible at many Mount Anthony soccer games throughout the fall, Vigsnes was a resource for first-year girls coach Mark Boudreau, a former player, volunteering to work with the team’s goalkeepers.

"He’s what you think of first when you think of soccer in Bennington," Boudreau said. "He’s got a standing invitation to my sideline any time."

Plante, 63, who has also led the Patriots’ JV boys basketball team for the last 39 seasons, has few peers when it comes to total coaching victories in Vermont.

A middle school science teacher for 37 years, Plante won 429 games with the MAU varsity baseball team, 176 coaching the American Legion Post 13 baseball team and more than 460 as a JV basketball coach.

On the diamond, those 605 wins included four Division I high school state championships, 10 title-game appearances and two Legion state crowns.

"Simply put, he has been Mr. Baseball in the Bennington community for as long as I have lived here (since 1978)," wrote Tim Brown, MAU activities director, in nomination.

"Al has produced a winning attitude with the baseball program year in and year out," wrote Rutland coach Kevin Bellomo. "Playing against Al as a player in the late [1980s] it was a remarkable event if we beat his teams."

Houghton, 60, Burr and Burton’s athletic director for 17 years and assistant headmaster for 24, coached two state championships in girls basketball, earning more than 100 career victories. A girls golf coach as well, he played a role in the return of football to the Manchester school after a 26-year hiatus.

He served the VPA on various state committees for more than a decade and was the point person for the organization of the Hall of Fame 12 years ago.

"His contribution over the years to Burr and Burton is huge," BBA athletic director Kathi Bierwirth said of her predecessor. "But a big part of my nomination is what he’s given back to the state, too."

Other members of the VPA Class of 2013 include:

* Tom Conte, St. Johnsbury Academy: Athletic director.

* Jasmyn Huntington, Oxbow: Girls basketball (2,079 points, second all-time to sister Jade).

* Erin Sullivan, Mount Mansfield: Cross country running.

* Oliver "Ollie" Dunlap, BFA-St. Albans: Football, basketball, track.

* Rory Grimes, St. Johnsbury: Basketball, track, soccer.

* Denny Miles, Northfield: Soccer official.

* Vincent "Rollie" Guyette, Vergennes: Coach, athletic director.

* Orrie Jay, Burlington: Baseball coach.

* Steve Ferreira, Essex: Baseball coach (527 career wins, most all-time in Vermont).