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The Aud

03/14/06 12:00AM By Howard Coffin
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(HOST) USA Today has called the Barre Auditorium "one of the ten finest places in the country to watch a high school basketball game." It's where Vermont's Division 2, 3 and 4 boys and girls State Basketball finals were recently held - and commentator Howard Coffin was among the enthusiastic fans.

(COFFIN) What passed for winter has had it - as Vermont's March madness has ended. Once again high school basketball has taken over the Barre Auditorium. I couldn't get enough of it.

I recall the little Proctor playmaker and his no-look passes; the grand high arch of the last second three point shot that won a game for West Rutland; the desperate full court press Vergennes threw at a bigger and better Fair Haven team.

And I remember the din the cheering, screaming, and the hoarseness each night, the weeping cheerleader, a coach staring into the rafters as still another shot failed - the utter intensity of it all.

The Aud, as it's known, has been called one of the ten best places to watch high school basketball - anywhere. For a handful of days in March I am again in high school, seated not in the balcony's comfortable chairs, but down among the students, where what is happening on the court is the most important thing in all the world.

For ninety minutes, basketball is all there is. I again know the focus of youth when the effort of the hour was all that mattered, in so many things. Again no deadlines, bills, appointments, I am totally engrossed in a basketball game.

It occurred to me midway of the Danville/West Rutland game that maybe the life experience our brains perceive is about half over when we leave high school. Then time speeds up, there is so much to do, as we encounter survival. But back before the diploma so much of life was so intense, appreciated, focused and fun (save for homework).

At the Aud I am back in slow time, in the small town that is Vermont sports, remembering when I played a bit, and wrote sports, talking with old friends about games long past, seasons of memory. And as I watched the lads of 2006, some having their finest hour, I thought of old friend Mal Boright, well into his sixties as am I, recalling his Newport team making its first appearance in the state championships a half century ago.

Mal said, "We came out on that floor and the seats rose up to the sky. We lost by about forty."

When I emerged from the Thetford/Hazen game, last sunlight touched the old working peoples' city. The thermometer read forty-five degrees and before heading for the Irish party in the old Labor Hall, I drove up to Berlin Pond. In the swamp at the south end, as expected, I found pussy willows. The quiet was overwhelming as I stood in the fading light of a pre-spring day filled with promise, though I knew I was a full, if fleeting, 360 days from a return to the Aud.

This is Howard Coffin of Montpelier.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian who's specialty is the civil war.
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