Blaze can't erase legend Broomhall's legacy
BENNINGTON -- Last week, a forest fire destroyed 13 acres of land in Woodford near the Prospect Mountain ski area. In the process of combatting the blaze, some of the ski trails sustained damage from crews bringing equipment to the remote site.
Those trails were built by local cross-country ski legend Bucky Broomhall, but the legacy of Bucky is much more than trails at Prospect Mountain.
"What Bucky has contributed to the sport of Nordic skiing is vast," said current Mount Anthony Union High School ski coach Bruce Smith. "Bucky epitomizes the tradition and the commitment to the sport and there's such a strong sense of that in this community."
A marker of his contribution: Broomhall was inducted into the Vermont Ski Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Maine Ski Hall of Fame last October -- becoming the only person so honored in both states.
The accolade adds another layer to the simple fact that the Broomhall name carries a lot of weight in the Nordic community.
Broomhall, originally from Rumford, Maine, was the 12th of 15 children. He skied as a child, following in the footsteps of older brothers Wendell (Chummy), Ray and Charlie (Slim) -- each a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame as well.
His brother, Chummy, 12 years older, was a world-class skier, competing for the United States in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.
"I had a hero, so to speak. I looked up to him," Broomhall said.
Slim skied as well, but lost an eye fighting in Italy during World War II.
"I had a good background to fall back on, we skied of course, I started when I was five years old," Broomhall said. "I've done it for 77 years. It was something we were born with."
Broomhall served in the Navy from 1951 to 1955, then went to Western State College in Colorado from 1955-59, competing for the ski team for four years. In 1956 and 1957, the team won the NCAA championships. His senior season in 1959 was his best individual year, finishing 7th in cross country.
Based on his performance, he was invited to compete at the Olympic Trials in Squaw Valley, Calif., finishing 24th in the event.
"I had never competed against international competition," Broomhall said. "We had skiers from all over the world, there was definitely a European influence. But against international competition, it's a different ballgame."
He returned to Maine and became a teacher and ski coach in 1962 at Fryeburg Academy. Two years later, coaching in Mexico, Maine, four of his skiers finished in the top 10 in the junior nationals.
"I think it was the Broomhall reputation because I didn't have the background necessary to [coach], but they asked if I could host the state meet in my second year," Broomhall said. "A lot of that was because of my brothers. That had a great deal to do with that situation. I had a background in college skiing, but I was very lucky, I guess."
But eventually, Maine's loss became Bennington's gain. Despite the fact that Broomhall's teams were extremely successful, he had become increasingly unhappy.
Around the same time, former Bennington selectman and skiing enthusiast J. Duncan Campbell was looking for a high school ski coach. He called the United States Ski Association asking about coaches and was given Broomhall's name.
"I was teaching water skiing and sailing at a YMCA camp in New Hampshire and I got a phone call from Duncan, who didn't know me at all," Broomhall said. "He was interested in getting skiing going here and he asked if I wanted to come over and talk about it.
"I had come through the area years earlier on my way to Colorado and had really liked it, so I thought, sure, I'll come over."
At that time, the Bennington area was largely ignorant in the Nordic ski discipline, Broomhall said.
"They didn't have anything here -- a jump or cross-country trails -- but [the community] wanted to start it and they were going to the new school," said Broomhall, whose first year in Bennington was the last year at the former Bennington High School, in 1966, before Mount Anthony opened in 1967. "They threw money at us, bought uniforms, sweaters and jackets, gave us money for skis and jumping skis, we needed everything and they bought it."
Broomhall took a job as a physical education teacher. In the first season, races ran at Woodford State Park. But with no facilities of their own, he set out to transform Prospect Mountain for competition.
"I was cutting trails to make a [ski] jump at Prospect," said Broomhall. "I wasn't afraid of a challenge, I felt I had the ability and I wasn't afraid of work. I knew how to use a chainsaw."
As work finished, interest grew exponentially, including girls who wanted to take part.
"A bunch of girls came to me and said, ‘We want to ski.' I told them there were no teams for girls but they said they didn't care, we just want to ski," Broomhall said. "There's only one program and if you want to get in there and run with the boys, go for it."
Under Broomhall's tutelage, success came almost immediately. Two of his skiers, Jane Mollica and Jane Wolfe, qualified for the junior nationals in Minnesota, finishing third and fourth. That opened the door at other schools around Vermont, all with girls who wanted to get involved in Nordic skiing years before Title IX.
"A lot of girls said, ‘Hey, Mount Anthony is doing it, why can't we do it?" Broomhall said. "It really had that effect. It broke the ice. I never thought about being a pioneer with girls skiing, maybe [I think about it] now, but never back then. I got the ball rolling for others and I'm very proud of that."
After three years, he resigned as MAU coach after proposing the start of a youth ski league in the area. That led to the development of the Torger Tokle League in October 1969. Named after a Hall of Fame ski jumper of the 1930s and ‘40s, the New England-wide league would provide competition for skiers from ages five to 14.
"I felt there was a need for a development program. There's Little League, Pop Warner [football], swimming, all those programs, and most of the kids started in the development," Broomhall said. "I wasn't seeing it in skiing and I had the interest to do it. So I set it up to sell the program to the Eastern Ski Association and they bought it."
The league, now known as the Bill Koch League, took off. Broomhall coached more than two dozen Junior Olympians over three decades leading the youth program.
"I loved seeing the development, seeing the enthusiasm," Broomhall said.
Smith said that foundation has made the Mount Anthony program what is it today -- one that has combined for 15 championships in its history.
"Feeder programs can come and go," said Smith, who has led MAU to six championships. "There's a direct correlation in Koch League participation and the results later at the high school level. When you have kids skiing from when they're four years old, they'll be better when they get older."
Broomhall's days as the high school coach weren't over, however. He returned in the late 1970s and ‘80s for several years, then again in the early 1990s, winning back-to-back boys state championships and sweeping both boys and girls' titles in the 1991-92 season. He finally retired from MAU for good, going 210-76 and winning five state championships.
"I didn't want to go back coaching but I didn't want the program to die," Broomhall said. "Every time I had a chance I would go back and coach the young skiers."
Broomhall also became an official through the International Ski Federation, chosen as a Technical Delegate for a World Cup event in Lake Placid and to work at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
This winter, Prospect Mountain hosted the state meet and Broomhall was chosen as the TD.
"I went to the state meeting and the [officials] asked who I was getting to be TD," Smith said. "I told them I was getting Bucky and there was this reverent hush in the room."
"Bruce went and he told them I would be TD," remembered Broomhall with a smile. "He told them and they were happy with that. Then he asked me. What choice did I have?"
At the meet in March, Broomhall worked with virtually all of the former MAU Nordic coaches and Smith to pull off the championships without a hitch -- on trails he'd helped build more than 40 years ago.
Broomhall is also intertwined in the careers of both of Bennington's Olympic athletes. He has coached and advised two local athletes -- Dave Jareckie and Andy Newell. Both skied in the Bill Koch League, and Jareckie competed in the biathlon at the 1992 and 1994 Olympics. Newell, a 29-year-old Shaftsbury native, competed in the sprint events in both the 2006 and 2010 Games and is in the process of qualifying for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"It's like frosting on the cake," said Broomhall when talking about Jareckie and Newell. "I saw a lot of determination and possibilities, but it takes such a unusual individual to go through all that training like Dave and Andy. I had a strong feeling about what it took. I saw something [in both]."
When asked about his legacy, Broomhall thought for a moment.
"I made a difference, I gave back to something," Broomhall said. "It's a great satisfaction that I made a difference in a lot of kids' lives. I've been in the right place at the right time. It's funny how things happen."
Smith said Broomhall had simple advice when he started coaching in 2006.
"He always told me, ‘Make sure their skis kick, you want them to feel good about what they're doing,' Smith said. "That's the basis of every program he ever did."
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