BENNINGTON — There will be no Southern Vermont Storm semi-pro football team this season.
Last week, the Storm decided to forgo their 2016 season because low player participation rate during the first two months of practices.
"We decided in the best interest of the team to not play this season," said Storm head coach John Mooney. "We did not want put our players at risk of getting injured with the low number of guys we had on the roster and we felt our team would not be able to compete at the highest level because of it."
The Storm has been a team in the New England Football League since 2006 and in the past four seasons have been successful, combining for a 23-11 record with two appearances in the semifinals of the NEFL playoffs. There are three divisions in the NEFL and the Storm has been between single-A and double-A.
Unlike in years past though, the Storm couldn't get the same amount of players to play this season.
Before the start of the season, Southern Vermont had 34 players signed up to play and saw that number dwindle to 22 with one month to go before season play was to begin in July.
The league minimum for how many players a team needs to dress for a game is 25, putting the Storm not just low on guys to build a team around, but short of the amount of players they needed to even play a game.
"You can't play a game with only 22 guys dressed and expect to compete," Mooney said. "You need 30 or more guys on a team, so you can be able to make substitutions and have more talent on your team. That's going to give you a better chance to win games."
In years past, Mooney said that the Storm had up to 50 guys on the roster and that was a big part in the success of the team.
Mooney cited money as one reason for the low numbers.
To play, players have to pay $125 in dues for jerseys and football pants, while also having to buy their own equipment, such as helmets and shoulder pads. They also need medical insurance, more than what the NEFL offers, to cover any injuries sustained while playing.
Another reason is players unable to commit, because of work or other off-field things.
"When the guys signed up to play, they knew their commitment to the team," Mooney said. "I understand that every player on the team has a job and that they're going to have to miss practices because of work sometimes. Still though, if you want to play, you have to be able to balance both work and football and some players were unable to do that."
With no team this season, Mooney said there are a couple of goals. One is fundraising, so the team can help out players buy their equipment and help them with other needs. The second is to recruit more players to join the team next season, especially more from the Bennington area, since the team is based in Southern Vermont.
Since 95 percent of the team is from Bennington, Mooney, himself a Mount Anthony graduate, feels getting more players from the area will help get the Storm more support in the community and help them raise more money for funding.
"I really want the team to get more involved in the Bennington community," Mooney said. "I think that will help us raise money. We're also going to recruit players in the area really hard the next few months. Being from the area, I know there are great talented players here in Bennington and getting those players will help tremendously."
Mooney also wants to get more home games for the Storm at nearby Mount Anthony. In the team's only game they have at MAU, the Storm raises more money and have more fans attend then the rest of their home games at Schuylerville High School.
Mooney believes that more team involvement in the community and fund-raising will help the Storm get more home games at Mount Anthony or at least get home games closer to the area.
This year will mark the first time in 10 years the Storm will not be taking the field, but the cancellation could be a blessing in disguise for the team going forward.
"We're using this season off to work hard to build a better foundation for our team for years to come," Mooney said. "Hopefully we are able to raise more money for next year and get more guys to come out for the team, so we can have a great 2017 season."