BENNINGTON — It’s in the early stages, but a local man is trying to bring an American Basketball Association team to Bennington.
Shawn Pratt, a Bennington resident for more than two decades, is in talks with the commissioner of that league, Joseph Newman, about getting a franchise locally.
“We talked to Mr. Newman, and he said he agreed, and we put some money up. And we pay to get a franchise, or whatever to get a team,” Pratt said in an interview late last week. “I haven’t filled out the rest of the paperwork yet. I’m still doing that now because I’m doing a bunch of other things too, there is a lot going on.”
The original American Basketball Association was founded in 1967, merging with the NBA in 1976. In 1999, Newman and Richard Tinkham reformed the league, which now has hundreds of teams around the country.
Another person that is a part of the process is Chris Kidd, a former player at Sage College who ended up going back to school at 34 years old and played basketball for the Gators. Kidd also played at the College of St. Joseph’s in Rutland in 2017-18. Pratt said he coached Kidd when he was younger.
Pratt himself went to Southern Vermont College and ended up as an assistant coach for the Mountaineers in 2000-01.
Pratt said he entered into the Battle of the Future basketball league, and his team went 6-0. Pratt said that’s when he realized he had talented players. Two other semi-professional sports teams call Bennington County home — the Southern Vermont Storm football team and the new Women’s Professional Soccer League’s Vermont Fusion in Manchester.
There is some discussion about where to put a team, if Pratt is able to secure a franchise.
There might be a possibility to use the new YMCA-run Bennington Recreation Center that is in the process of being built. Another option is to work out a plan with Southwestern Vermont Health Care, the new owners of Southern Vermont College, to use the McDonough Gym space at the college.
“I’m thinking maybe we can we can somehow because I know Mr. Newman said that we can go and talk to them and maybe work out a partnership of some sort. And, you know, that’s how we bring more people to the town,” Pratt said. “We’ll be able to find a place. What we want to do is give the community some place to go and something to look at and I’m telling you, it’ll be some good players in there.”
Pratt says the players would not be paid during the team’s inaugural season, but he is targeting November as a potential start date, which is when the ABA New England region will begin its season. Right now, many of the league’s teams are not playing because of the pandemic.
The ABA has been a leader in the social justice movement, as has Pratt, and that is a major piece of this opportunity. His partner, Mia Schultz, is an activist in Bennington and president of the Rutland area NAACP.
Pratt believes bringing a team to the area while also being able to shed light on current issues regarding social justice throughout the country is a win-win.
“[Newman] also said that they’re big into social justice. So, what’s going on currently in the country, they are trying to make it so they can help do that and make it better,” Pratt said. “I have already been doing a mentorship program for young kids, mostly kids of color, that are underprivileged, that need help or try to rehabilitate them and make them better.
The ABA has had a franchise in Vermont before. Former Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff founded the Vermont Frost Heaves in December 2005 and it played for three seasons in the ABA, winning the 2006 and 2007 championships playing its home games at the Barre Auditorium. The Frost Heaves had a second life in the Premier Basketball League, folding officially in 2011.
In a Sports Illustrated story about the Frost Heaves from 2015, Wolff says that the cost for an ABA franchise is $10,000. Pratt did not say how much he and his group had to pay for the franchise fee now.
“I wanted to get a hold of him to see if he wanted to do anything with the logo, because he’s still probably got the logo,” Pratt said. “But then I thought of my own name, I called them the Southern Vermont STAR, which stands for Standing Tall Against Racism, so it flows into the social justice thing as well.”
Pratt is hopeful that a new team can be a big thing for the local community.
“I’m just going through my ideas and what I want to do and how I want to approach it but I think the main thing is, if I want to really get this done, I got to find a facility to play,” Pratt said. “Hopefully if I can get that plugged in, then it would be a win-win for the community.”