Balch, Windsor staff get another chance to Shrine

Windsor football Coach Greg Balch congratulates his team after their 35-21 win over BFA-Fairfax in the VPA Div. III football championship in Rutland, Vt., on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Windsor football Coach Greg Balch congratulates his team after their 35-21 win over BFA-Fairfax in the VPA Div. III football championship in Rutland, Vt., on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley news file photographs — James M. Patterson

Wyatt Allenson (69) and his Mount Abraham teammates had trouble catching scrambling Windsor quarterback Maison Fortin during their VPA Division III football semifinal in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 5, 2022. Windsor won, 45-6, and faces BFA-Fairfax in the state championship. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com


.

Wyatt Allenson (69) and his Mount Abraham teammates had trouble catching scrambling Windsor quarterback Maison Fortin during their VPA Division III football semifinal in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 5, 2022. Windsor won, 45-6, and faces BFA-Fairfax in the state championship. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com . valley news file photograph — Geoff Hansen

Windsor coach Greg Balch goes over a play with Corey Lockwood during the team's VPA Division III semifinal game against Mount Abraham in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 5, 2022. Windsor won, 45-6. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com


.

Windsor coach Greg Balch goes over a play with Corey Lockwood during the team's VPA Division III semifinal game against Mount Abraham in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 5, 2022. Windsor won, 45-6. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com . Geoff Hansen

Jamie Richardson, right, prepares to start a drill during Windsor High's Aug. 26, 2017 football practice. Richardson is the Yellowjackets' defensive coordinator and the head baseball coach. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jamie Richardson, right, prepares to start a drill during Windsor High's Aug. 26, 2017 football practice. Richardson is the Yellowjackets' defensive coordinator and the head baseball coach. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Tris Wykes

New Hampshire players stretch at the end of a practice for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University in Castleton, Vt., on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

New Hampshire players stretch at the end of a practice for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University in Castleton, Vt., on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america file — Alex Driehaus

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-03-2023 10:27 AM

When Greg Balch was growing up in Windsor, the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl was the biggest event of the summer.

The annual football game between top just-graduated high school seniors in Vermont and New Hampshire was held at Dartmouth College back then, so the Upper Valley took center stage in the rivalry. Balch, a 1992 Windsor High graduate, fondly remembers attending the games as a child and said landing a coveted roster spot was among the highest honors a player could aspire to achieve.

Balch has now been the head coach at his alma mater for the last 10 years and has led the Yellowjackets to back-to-back undefeated seasons and VPA Division III state championships. For the second time, he and his staff were selected to coach the Vermont Shrine team this year as the Green Mountain State looks to snap a three-game skid against New Hampshire on Saturday at Castleton University’s Dave Wolk Stadium.

“The Shrine game has always been a big deal throughout the Connecticut River valley, where the game was played for many years,” Balch said. “It’s always had a really strong following in that area, and probably a little bit less outside of that. The Vermont players I’ve talked to have been very excited to play, whether they’re from the Burlington area or the Connecticut valley area.”

When Balch and the Yellowjackets’ staff coached Vermont to a 24-13 victory in the 2018 Shrine game — the state’s last win in the series — Windsor was also coming off back-to-back undefeated state championship seasons. But the last two years have been a new level of dominance for the Yellowjackets, who have won 13 of their 21 games by at least 30 points and only once played a game decided by a single score.

Defensive coordinator Jamie Richardson, also the Jacks’ head baseball coach, has played a big part in that — Windsor held its opponents to 13 points per game between 2021 and 2022. Richardson is also a lifelong Windsor resident, graduating a year before Balch, and has been on the football coaching staff ever since Balch was named to lead the program.

“It really is an honor. We work very hard at Windsor in our football program,” Richardson said. “I stay out of the offense, (Balch) stays out of the defense, and we stay in our own lane. We’ve always had a great relationship, and we work well together. We all know each other’s roles, and that’s probably why we’re so successful.”

New Hampshire leads the all-time Shrine series 50-16 with two ties; the Granite State rattled off 15 straight wins from 2001 to 2015. For most of its history, the game was played at a “neutral” location near the Connecticut River, with the 2009 through 2011 games held at Windsor.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hartford man held without bail following weekend standoff and shelter-in-place advisory
Lebanon employers seek to meet workers’ child care needs
Vermont Supreme Court to hear Tunbridge trails case
Bookstock literary festival grew too big to manage
Woodstock’s first Pride brings community together
Man gets DUI at Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery

But the Shrine game moved to Castleton, a less-convenient spot for New Hampshire, in 2015, and many top players from the Granite State have instead opted to play in the New Hampshire East-West All-Star Game that benefits the children’s hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Vermont ended its long losing streak emphatically in 2016 with a 50-2 win, and since then the Shrine games have mostly been competitive.

“Back when I grew up, you went to a Shrine game knowing that New Hampshire was going to win and win big,” Richardson said. “Now it’s not like that. We might have a few more people in the stands who know they’re going to see a good game.

“Not to take away anything from the ’80s and ’90s when it was at Dartmouth, I was in the stands every game and still had a great time, but the game itself, I think it’s a better game now.”

Balch, Richardson and the rest of the Windsor staff — which includes offensive coordinator James Perry, defensive line coach Matt Meagher and defensive backs coach Zane Burke — will get to coach two of their own players one last time as quarterback/defensive back Maison Fortin and running back/linebacker Logan Worrall were both named to the Vermont roster.

Fortin and Worrall will be joined on the Green Mountain State squad by Hartford two-way linemen A.J. Aldrich and Connor Tierney. Hanover tight end and defensive lineman Cam Bonner will play on the New Hampshire team, as will Newport running back/linebacker Karter Pollari, Stevens offensive lineman/linebacker Colby Shepard and Cardinals two-way lineman Lucas Smith.

“Maison and Logan, they’re both special kids,” Balch said. “Logan has probably texted me every day for the last three months about this or that idea and what he’s doing to prepare for the game. Maison’s a little bit quieter, but he’s all in, and we had a practice a few weeks ago and he was in great shape. They’ve meant a lot for the Windsor program, and I’m certain that they’ll be strong contributors to the Shrine team.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.