It was a roller-coaster week for outdoor sports events in Vermont.
On July 5, Spartan events founder Joe DeSena posted a live video to his more than 5 million Spartan followers on social media talking about how Spartan Races will continue to be run and the protocols in place including a description of how all the staff would be tested. The Spartan Ultra and Spartan Ultra World Championships were scheduled to bring thousands to Killington, near DeSena’s Pittsford home, in mid-September. However, a just-released updated calendar of confirmed Spartan events did not list Killington and advised that more information on the Ultra Worlds was pending.
Two days later, the Vermont City Marathon announced that the 32nd running of the race will not be run on October 25, as planned. Instead, the race that is traditionally run on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, will take a break for 2020 and run next May 30, 2021.
And then there was the blow-up over the Bitter Lacrosse Tournament. The week-long tournament has historically brought nearly 3000 players and their families to Stowe each July. The event has proven such a success that founders E.W. Bitters and his family purchased and renovated the old Town & Country motel into a new lodging site and event headquarters.
Though Bitter Lacrosse had plans for a much-limited event this summer, with fewer than half the teams that normally participate, townspeople had other ideas and social media blew up with comments this past week and a petition to cancel the event drew more than 730 signatures on Change.org.
As one person posted on Facebook: “It’s not that I don’t want the LAX families here, I just don’t want a large group of people from all over the North East here at the same time during a global pandemic.”
Another wrote on Front Porch Forum: “Town has mixed emotions about it whether there’s a pandemic or not. Business owners are happy for the revenue and non-business owners are displeased by traffic and being put on a wait at restaurants. Personally, I will reserve my feelings about the tournament. Stowe has been doing a great job at following guidelines thus far so I’m going to assume that we as a community will continue doing so.”
And another comment on Facebook: “Put a whole community at risk for a game and a few hotels can make a buck. Them canceling even if they were scared into it was a good thing. I’m sure there were no threats but I’m glad the community came together to protect itself. It’s the first bit of hope I’ve gotten from the community over Covid-19 in a while.”
The debate grew heated enough that on July 8 Bitters posted that the event was canceled. This also prompted Representative Heidi Scheuermann to post the following:
A great deal of social media activity and in recent days has surrounded the Stowe Lacrosse Festival that is held annually in and around Stowe. And, given those on social media and via email/phone contacting me with their thoughts and concerns, I felt it important to address it fully here.
To be clear, sports events like the Stowe Lacrosse event are allowed to be held as long as they comply with all of the rules/regulations/restrictions in place. At this time, here is the site for all of the restrictions, dated July 3rd. This is updated regularly, so I urge to keep posted on the rules. https://accd.vermont.gov/…/update-new-work-safe-additions-b…
Note specifically, Section 9.1 for sports. Right now, it is clear that gatherings for such events can be 150 outdoors (per field) and 75 indoors, with social distancing in both cases. In addition, of course, there are quarantine restrictions that visitors must comply with in general when coming from particular areas. This is the website for that information, and is also updated regularly. https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/restart/cross-state-travel
With regard to the lacrosse event, from what I understand, it had been planned as a much-reduced size event – approximately 30 teams (70% fewer than prior years); all teams would have been coming from inside Vermont or from non-quarantine places; and the organizers had planned to comply with all of the restrictions in place at the time – and had been working with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Attorney General’s office to be sure it was all going to be copacetic.
So, my hope was that visitors would have been welcomed here to Stowe and the area, that those visitors would have respected all of us by abiding by all of our rules, that our businesses would have ensured such as well, and of course, that the event organizers would have succeeded in ensuring that it was organized with the health and safety of all at the forefront.
In the end, the event organizers have canceled the event this year, and are looking for other host locations for the future. The following is from them: “Due to the vitriol, hate, and threats of violence from members of the community, we do not feel the Stowe area would be a safe place for visiting families. We will not be running the event this year. Furthermore, we do not feel it would be a good fit in future years and will look at other options for host venues.”
Frankly, while I certainly understand the concerns expressed, and appreciate that many have expressed those concerns respectfully, I share the organizers’ disappointment and frustration with the vitriol that has accompanied too many. What Stowe has built its reputation on is its warm welcome and acceptance of all. Unfortunately, while I know our community is a great one, I am afraid in some ways we are seeing a different side right now. This is not just evident with regard to this event. I have witnessed far too much recently in the way of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric aimed at individuals, visitors, and businesses throughout our community. We are better than that. I am hopeful we find our way back to the welcoming and supportive town that I know Stowe is. I will do all I can to set an example to do just that.
And Town Manager Charles Safford posted the following on Stowe’s Front Porch Forum:
The Town of Stowe issues special event permits for any event anticipated to draw over 300 people and/or involves a road closure. The Stowe Selectboard has revoked all special event permits this year, including for Bitter Lacrosse. Bitter has indicated that the “tournament is not occurring in Stowe” and “total team count is down 80%.” However, people may stay at local hotels and he does plan on having a camp during the week in Stowe. The Town will be monitoring for any infractions to Stowe’s Special Event Ordinance.
The upshot is that while there is hope that restrictions will be lifted and more events can be held in the fall, any that are planned down the road may encounter similar “event shaming.”
Eds. note. This story was updated on Wed. 7/8 to reflect the removal of the Killington event from the Spartan Ultra calendars.
Opening photo: A lacrosse game in action. Photo by Michelle Chrin/Adobe