Goodbye to the Frost Heaves

I really hate when a minor league sports team folds.  I really do.

Sometimes it seems like the team is trying to get out of the market as fast as possible, trying to burn its bridges and then blame the fans for the lack of support.  Oh, it’s the fans’ fault the team is leaving, the fans didn’t show up and we lost money because the fans didn’t care.  There aren’t enough hankies to mop up that pile of crocodile tears.

That being said, when a sports team does come along and you start developing a loyalty to it – an affinity, if you will, you buy their game-worn jerseys and you sit in the stands and you cheer your hometown squad and you boo the visiting team, and you join the booster club and you ride with the club to road games, well, it feels good.  It feels like you’re a part of the club and the club’s a part of you.

That’s how things went with the Premier Basketball League’s Vermont Frost Heaves.  The Heaves began operations in the 2006-07 American Basketball Association season, and were the class of a classless league.  This wasn’t some ramshackle rinky-dink squad with five players and uniforms that were purchased from the local Wal-Mart.  This was a squad that was owned and operated, at least for the first three seasons, by Sports Illustrated writer and author Alexander  Wolff – who has written several entertaining and erudite texts on professional basketball.

After two championship seasons in the ABA, the Frost Heaves jumped to the more competitive Premier Basketball League.  The team made the playoffs in their first season, and came within an eyelash of reaching the playoffs last year.  This year, after the original ownership group divested themselves of the team, a collection of fans purchased the franchise, raised some startup capital, and the Frost Heaves returned to the court for their fifth season.

Benson Callier of the Vermont Frost Heaves goes for two points in Burlington. Photo by Chuck Miller.

But, unfortunately, expenses were too great.  The old stanza about making a million dollars in minor league sports by starting with five million dollars still holds true.  And although the Frost Heaves continued to play competitive basketball (despite starting off the season 2-5, some of those losses were by only a couple of points), the bottom line was the budget line.

Today, the only professional sports team in the Green Mountain State ceased operations.

Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry at Vermont Frost Heaves January 7 2011
Vermont Frost Heaves head coach Joe Salerno outlines strategy in a 2011 game. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Being from the Capital District, I’ve become jaded with the litany of minor league sports franchises that have entered and left our market in the past 30 years.  There were teams that I adored (the first iteration of the Albany Patroons, the New York Eagles soccer team, the first iteration of the Albany Firebirds Arena Football team), there were teams that I enjoyed (the Albany-Colonie Yankees, the Albany River Rats, the Albany Capitals soccer team, the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs, the second iteration of the Albany Patroons), and there were teams that if they existed in this area, I never knew it or gave two figs (the Albany Attack lacrosse team, the New York Kick indoor soccer team, the Capital District Islanders, the Albany Choppers hockey team, the Adirondack Thunder USBL basketball team).

But here’s the thing.

I’ve always enjoyed going to Vermont Frost Heaves games.  The atmosphere in that building was a mixture of New England spirit and small-town America.  The fans brought cowbells to the arena and rang them loudly every time the Frost Heaves scored points.  They traveled in “fan vans” to Frost Heaves road games, whether it meant a road trip to Halifax or to Oklahoma.  And the team always remained competitive throughout its existence – the Frost Heaves were no cupcake squad.

The Vermont Frost Heaves' mascot, "Bump" the Moose. Photo by Chuck Miller.

They played in two Vermont arenas – the Barre Municipal Auditorium, just outside of Montpelier; and the Burlington Memorial Auditorium, right in the heart of downtown Burlington.  Both buildings were small – the basketball courts were built for high school games, which meant the action on the court was packed in tightly.

I took hundreds of pictures in Barre and in Burlington, I’ve climbed the balcony level in Burlington to shot from above the hoop; I’ve snuck into the crannies in Barre to capture action that just wasn’t available anywhere else.  You’re seeing many of those pictures on this blog today.

I’m going to miss those road trips to Central Vermont.  I’m going to miss the same ones that i took to Northern Vermont.  It’s sad.  It truly is.

Maybe someday someone will re-enter the Green Mountain State with a new basketball proposal.  Maybe pro hoops will return to Barre or to Burlington or to some other locale.

I can only hope.