Home News and Features Roundball Reunion: A Celebration of Central Vermont Rec League Basketball

Roundball Reunion: A Celebration of Central Vermont Rec League Basketball

More than two dozen former Montpelier Rec League basketball players shared their memories at a reunion held April 27 at the Rec Center on Barre Street. Photo by John Lazenby.
More than two dozen men, and one inspirational woman, gathered recently at the Barre Street Rec Center to celebrate a sport they could never quite give up.

The April 27 rec league basketball reunion brought together a variety of weeknight warriors and lunch-hour launchers whose lifelong participation in the sport provided them with a connection to their former glory days and offered a competitive outlet to help pass the long winter months.

“All those who participated and contacted me to say they could come showed great appreciation for gathering the former players in central Vermont and there was a warmth and camaraderie that marked the day,” reunion organizer Ken Libertoff said. “Remembering the days and hours spent in this little gym were something to cherish.”

Many players recalled the intensity, even ferocity, of the organized rec league games, but most said the bonds formed with teammates and joy brought by the simple execution of the game was the main attraction. Lunch-time pickup games, while somewhat tamer, still provided therapeutic competition in the middle of the work day.

One trailblazing player had a unique perspective. Kathy Johnson, the first woman to play in the Montpelier Rec League, said a few men, not many but a few, were skeptical about her ability until she went head-to-head with them. She played for Julio’s in the Rec League and also participated in the noon-time sessions.

Kathy Johnson, the first woman to compete in Montpelier Rec League basketball, chats with former opponents and teammates. Reunion organizer Ken Libertoff is seen in the background. Photo by John Lazenby.
“Ninety percent of the lunchtime players were welcoming,” Johnson told her fellow hoop lovers. “Ten to 15 percent were tolerant and one or two, a small percentage, didn’t want me here. For a few of those guys who really didn’t want me there we intentionally had me guard them.”

Once they saw that the former member of a state champion New Hampshire high school team (Fall Mountain Regional) had game, she became just another player.

“It’s a great workout,” said Johnson, who played in the league for seven years. “It’s a great team sport. I loved the challenge. I always played with men in high school because that was the best competition. The Julio’s players were so welcoming.”

She said she was not treated differently on the court but did finally manage to get a separate shower installed for women. 

Libertoff said he hopes participants will submit their own “basketball diaries” as a way to archive a living history of rec basketball in central Vermont. He has his own reminiscences and is inviting others to submit theirs by June 1. Libertoff said he would perhaps create a website to preserve the memories. For more information, email Ken at kennyl16@aol.com.

The regular lunchtime crowd was on the court as the reunion attendees filed in, including local attorney Phil Zalinger, who was honored for the most consecutive years played — at least 35. 

 The future of the noontime games could be uncertain. The 90-year-old Rec Center needs millions of dollars of renovation to meet federal disability standards, and city officials are grappling with what to do with it. Montpelier voters recently approved the $3 million acquisition of the 138-acre former Elks Club golf course outside of downtown, and one of the major uses to be discussed is the construction of a new recreational facility on that site.

Libertoff said he is concerned that young players might not have as easy access to a new facility located away from downtown and hopes city officials keep the creation of a space for indoor basketball in mind as ideas emerge for the new facility, the construction of which is likely several years away.

“It will be an interesting debate,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what will be done to ensure that boys and girls, and men and women, have a way to get to the Elks Club.”