MANCHESTER — The Burr and Burton Academy football program has had its ups and downs throughout the years, with the program actually being dropped for a year in the mid-1970s before finally being reinstated in 1999.
After nine straight losing seasons upon its return, BBA hired coach Jason Thomas in 2008. He arrived with an impressive pedigree, including a stint coaching at the University of New Hampshire alongside current Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
Since 2008, the Bulldogs have fought to prove that they are a force to be reckoned with in Vermont football. In 2015, BBA put it all together, riding a balanced offense and a ferocious defense to the first state crown in the VPA era (since 1970) and its first championship in the sport since 1948.
"The team restarted in 1999, but when I got here in 2008, the [field] lines weren't painted, it wasn't important," Thomas said. "We had to change the culture. It's a soccer community, but we both can thrive, we all have a chance to be successful."
A major part of that success is based on everyone from former players, BBA alumni, parents and supporters, who travel to every game, no matter how far, and pack the bleachers to root on their Bulldogs.
"It means everything, we get a ton of support in our community, I want to thank everyone who has supported us through the years," Thomas said.
After Saturday's win, a parade started at the Manchester Fire Department and traveled down Main Street, through the old Malfunction Junction, through town and to Seminary Avenue and the school. More than 50 people stood at the roundabout next to the Northshire Bookstore to cheer on the Bulldogs and twice as many met the team at the school.
After a couple of speeches from Thomas and new athletic director Dave Miceli, the players ran into the Seminary Building to ring the bell — a longtime tradition at Burr and Burton.
"It's an amazing town," said Sue LoMuscio, whose son Jimmy is a senior lineman. "I work at one of the local doctor's offices in town and everyone's excited to come out and support the team."
Donna and Bill Bazyk said they've appreciated how Thomas has built the program, not focusing so much on a culture of winning but on building young men who will move on to college, work, the military, or something else.
"Jason hasn't always believed in winning, but in building the program the right way," said Donna Bazyk, whose son Jacob, a senior, missed some time with injury. "That [philosophy] will pay off for years to come. It took some time but it has paid off. He is a great role model, not only for [the] football [team] but all sports at BBA, and we're appreciative of that."
Thomas has been a constant, along with many of the players, who came through the Equinox youth football program starting in elementary school through junior tackle, senior tackle and middle school before joining the high school program.
"Those guys helped to build this championship, they've been playing [together] since they were little," Miceli said. "[The coaches] have been with this group through junior tackle, senior tackle, looking for the real state title. Jason pours his heart and soul into the program, he has a great coaching staff, and he's really inspired the athletes to be a part of something bigger than themselves."
That consistency and the small-town feel have drawn more and more people to the team over the past decade.
"We have great sports fans in Manchester and the surrounding areas to the BBA community," Miceli said. "They understand the big moments and the need to be there for that. The whole community gets behind football, there's something special about football that inspires people to come out and be part of the process."
It also brings back memories for alumni, who competed as Burr and Burton Seminary, as it was once known.
"Guys who are my age, 46, or into their 50s and 60s, who remember playing football at BBA, those guys are thrilled to see BBA football back in a significant way," Miceli said. "Football had a special place all those years ago and it does again."