by Nathan Grutchfield
MONTPELIER — As if a varsity basketball playoff game against a tough opponent isn’t intimidating enough in its own right, imagine having your principal’s facial hair ride on the result of the game. That’s the intense situation that faced the Montpelier High School varsity boys’ basketball team found itself on Friday, February 19, in a game against Enosburg Falls.
Having formerly been the principal of the Enosburg Falls Middle School, and to this day residing in the town, the new MHS principal Mike McRaith was engaged in competitive-yet-friendly “tough-talk” with his friends back home as soon as the second-round pairing was announced. One friend, and the principal of Enosburg High School, Erik Remmers, proposed a bet on the game. McRaith suggested they wager their beards.
Thanks to the art teacher at Enosburg, posters were soon created that advertised a so-called “Battle of the Beards.” By the night of the game, word had spread so almost everyone at both schools knew about the wager. McRaith was an important figure at the game, his reactions closely watched as a scrappy and fierce contest unfolded.
McRaith must have been confident in his team, and for good reason, as they had erased the memory of a 0-20 season the year before to go 15-5 this year, with a playoff win leading into the second-round game. Unfortunately for McRaith and Montpelier, Enosburg pulled away in the second half of the game to win by six, largely as a result of stellar performances from kids who McRaith had known from his time as principal in Enosburg.
The next day at Enosburg’s morning practice, McRaith paid a visit to allow the kids to shave the beard. In his own words, “They didn’t hesitate!”