Storm to play home games at Lower Willow Park

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BENNINGTON — After 12 years, the Southern Vermont Storm finally have a permanent home.

Co-owners Patrick Seaver, Jeff Grimshaw and Chris Cipperley made it official on Tuesday at a press conference that the Storm will play all of its home games at Lower Willow Park in Bennington.

"This innovative move will surely benefit all phases of Bennington possible," Storm general manager Chris Cipperley said. "We would be surely remiss if we did not thank Bennington select board member Jim Carroll, who has served as an unstoppable cheerleader through this whole process."

In previous seasons, the Storm have played at Applejack Stadium in Manchester, Schuylerville Central School in New York, among other places.

Now, thanks to a partnership between the town and the team, the 2018 season will mark this first time in the team's existence that it will have a permanent home.

The field will be named "Storm Stadium at Lower Willow Park."

"With the Storm being at Willow Park, we can finally invest back into the field and the town and give something back," Seaver said. "Over the years, we're going to make that field a great place to be."

To get a deal in place, Carroll reached out to Bennington town manager Stu Hurd to let him know the Storm wanted to play eight to 10 games in Bennington and Hurd put Carroll in touch with Dan Monks, the Bennington town planning director, and Larry McLeod, the Bennington town building inspector, to discuss the idea. This past Friday, the town agreed to let the Storm play their games in Bennington.

"Their feet were off the ground," said Carroll of the excitement from Seaver and Cipperley following the town's decision. "As a candidate when I first ran for select board, what was most important to me was trying to bring more business downtown. This is a winning strategy for the town of Bennington. The Storm wins. The town of Bennington wins. I'm so proud (the Storm) stuck with Bennington."

Hurd, the long-time town manager, was more than happy to get the deal done for the future of the Storm and the future of Bennington.

"Every time my staff and I can align ourselves with a champion, that's a good thing," Hurd said. "I share Patrick and Chris' elation in that meeting when we were able to understand how little we had to do as a community and as a government to help them find a home and how much the Storm was willing to do to make that possible."

On the financial side, the move is a win for the Storm as well. With previous rates from the high school and middle school being higher, the lower rate from the town allows the Storm to reinvest money into the town and give back to the community with a field that the community can use.

In instances of bad weather, the Storm have kept close contact with the town of Manchester in regards to the use of Burr and Burton's FieldTurf football field if need be, but haven't committed to anything.

Storm Stadium will be a completely portable venue with non-intrusive goal posts and with embedded soccer goals to allow soccer during non-Storm events. The stadium will have a family picnic area and a clear view of the famous Bennington Monument in the distance. In terms of seating at the stadium, the plan for now is to have spectators provide their own seating, citing that it allows for fans to sit where they want. Long-term, the Storm have discussed building bleachers, but are taking an incremental approach with those decisions.

"Storm Stadium will be a wonderful family experience without a bad seat in the house," Cipperley said.

While Storm Stadium will be the new home, Seaver also hinted at the possibility that the team could play a game or two at Spinelli Field at Mount Anthony because the high school field has lights for night games. The team has played one game a season there, usually a couple of weeks before school starts.

But finally having a permanent stadium to call their own is something the Storm are incredibly grateful for.

"As long as I've been playing, we've never had a home. The burden of trying to find a place and having everything come together is gone," Seaver said. "That's a huge burden that we don't have to worry about anymore. We can focus on the important things like making this team a champion."

Adam Aucoin can reached at aaucoin@benningtonbanner.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.


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