by Ken Brown
CRAFTSBURY – Baseball is taking a big step forward to being back as a varsity sport this season at Craftsbury Academy (CA) under head coach Shaun Allen as his squad will play a full junior varsity schedule this coming spring.
Allen graduated from CA in ‘96 and played on the varsity baseball team for five seasons. The baseball program ended at CA in 2015 and was rebooted as a junior varsity program in 2019 under head coach Craig Wilson. COVID erased all of spring sports in the state of Vermont in 2020 and baseball in Craftsbury has only existed at the middle school and youth level ever since. Allen has coached at both of those levels in the community over the last few years and frustration of not having a varsity baseball team at CA has led him to taking on his current role this spring.
“I enjoyed playing baseball at CA in high school and honestly I was mad that we didn’t have a varsity team anymore and I wanted to get involved and figure out how to fix it. This town has always supported baseball and I wanted to do something to get the interest going again at the youth level,” said Allen.
Allen (treasurer), Mark Royan (president), April Royan (secretary), and John Amell (vice president) put their plan into action three years ago by creating Craftsbury Baseball after an absence of Tee Ball or Little League in the Craftsbury community in over a decade. Interest in Craftsbury and surrounding communities have since exploded with over 80 children participating in the program last summer and they now field teams at the tee ball, minor, and major league levels for ages 4 to12. A brand new Dustan Field in the Common was unveiled just two years ago, supporting both softball and baseball teams at all levels, culminating in successfully hosting the 8- to 10-year-old District IV Little League Championship last summer, won by Central Vermont. Allen and his Minors Blue team won the Steve Cunningham Little League Invitational Tournament in Stowe last June and it is that kind of success, interest, and community support that Allen feels will bring baseball back to CA some day at the highest level.
“April, Mark, and John, as well as countless volunteers have done most of the work and have created a lot of interest in the program. You need that interest from the kids to make the program successful, but it is the parents that make it happen at the youth level. They have to take the time to drive the kids to the games all summer and getting them involved and excited in the program is the key. We are so lucky to have so many hungry parents and volunteers in this community that want to see kids get after it and have fun playing this game,” said Allen.
Allen and his JV team will play a full schedule this spring, with hopes of fielding a varsity team as soon as 2024. He’s been practicing with 12 to 14 players made up of a pair of seniors, a core of underclassmen, and a talented freshman coming up from the middle school program. He and his middle school team travelled to Centennial Field last Spring to watch the Division III state title game between Hazen Union and Peoples Academy. Late winter weather has kept most northern programs practicing inside the last three weeks, but with warming temperatures in the forecast, he hopes to get his team onto the field practicing within the week.
“We have some exceptional athletes here at CA, but they’ve lost a lot of time in developing their baseball skills. We’ve got some great upperclassmen on the team who have the leadership skills needed to teach our young kids how to become adults. Our freshman class have played the most ball, coming up from the middle school team, and I’m really optimistic for this year. We are a small school with a lot of sport choices and dual athletes, so it’s important that we continue to generate interest in baseball at the youth level. We are so excited to bring baseball back to CA, we have a great group of kids, and we are grateful to have so much support from the parents and the community,” said Allen.
First year CA athletic director Connor Bean trusts he has the right team in place with head coach Allen and assistant coach William Garske and feels the future is bright for Charger varsity baseball.
“Shaun was a popular choice to lead the baseball program. He was the middle school coach last year and so many students enjoyed him. Our vision at CA is to hopefully increase participation numbers in baseball and we’ve requested to join the NVAC Mountain League as a full-fledged varsity program next spring, depending on numbers. With the Little League program being as strong as it is in the community, the hope is we have a strong baseball program here for years to come,” said Bean.
Weather permitting, the Chargers will open the season on the road this Friday at Winooski. CA is scheduled to host the Spartans next Friday in their home opener at Dustan Field.