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Going to 'The Aud'

01/31/04 12:00AM By Joe Deffner
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(Host) With high school basketball well underway all across the North Country commentator Joe Deffner is inspired to "think spring."

(Deffner) Each year, in late February and early March, as warm afternoons and slush-filled driveways hint at the coming spring and mud season, the basketball playoffs wind down and the final four teams in Divisions II, III and IV (boys and girls) make travel plans for the Barre Auditorium, or the Aud as its more commonly known.

Built in 1939 on the site of the former Goddard Seminary, the red bricks, granite face, and rows of glass block windows suggest a forgotten time. Steps rise to three sets of double doors. The polyurethane coating on the red and green hardwood floor is fresh. Red folding chairs on both sides of the scorers table await coaches, players, and managers. Cheering students take their places in stands behind their respective teams. Press and other officials fill the corner balconies on either side of the students sections.

Lou Cassani, retiring chairman of the Barre Tournament Committee, says, 'I think it's the most beautiful building in the state. The Division I kids miss out because they don't play here. (The Division I games are held at the UVM to accommodate the larger crowds.)

The Barre Tournament Committee and Staff are all volunteers and most of them have been working tournament games for more than 20 years. Dale Porter greets the teams at the back door when they get off the bus. He hands each participant a white ribbon that reads player, and a souvenir program. And when they've changed and are ready to take the floor, theyre hustled out of the locker room to wait in the upstairs kitchen between games, where concession volunteer like Fred Ford, Henry Scalabrini, and Ralph Gerrish put finishing touches on the pot of Barre dogs.

For the all-volunteer tournament committee, having fun is really what it's all about - that, and making the kids feel special. Team names are posted on the locker room doors, attendants are posted outside the locker rooms, and each participants name is read over the loudspeaker before the start of every game. There are oranges for both teams at halftime. For many of the players, a capacity crowd of nearly 2,000 will be the largest they will ever play in front of.

But according to one volunteer, it's more than just the size of the crowd. As he puts it, "Every kid who grows up in Vermont knows what it means to play in the Aud." They've grown up hearing moms, dads, aunts and uncles tell about when they went to the Aud to play, manage, coach or cheer.

The spirit of the Aud is summed up in the words of the tournament committee's former executive director, Jim Hoag, carved in granite, of course, in the main lobby, "You've worked hard and were good enough to get here...and there are no losers at the Aud."

This is Joe Deffner from Union Village.

Joe Deffner is a teacher at Thetford Academy.
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