In this week’s edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” I get to interview one of my heroes.
Tom Haley has been covering Vermont high school sports for the Rutland Herald since before I was born. For as long as I can remember, I’ve read his regular local sports column, “Haley’s Comets.” Tom has traversed as many roads, been to as many high school gymnasiums and ballfields, and told the stories of as many young athletes as anyone alive. Haley has poured his decades of experience as a Vermont sportswriter into his fantastic new book, Maple Mayberrys and Other Sweet Spots.
Maple Mayberrys is the story of a state told through sports—through the people that play them, watch them, and support them. It is also a story of places unique to the Green Mountain State.
In this wide ranging interview, Tom and I discuss what inspired him to write this book, the role of sports in small town civic life, and Three Rivers Stadium.
Clayton Trutor (CT): What inspired you to write this book?
Tom Haley (TH): The thought has always been there and it intensified during a 5-month pandemic furlough from my newspaper. Originally, the furlough was supposed to be for two weeks and when it grew toward two months, I felt it was time to do something.
I idolized Dave Morse of the Hardwick Gazette and he had a couple of books in mind but died at 77 before he got to write them. I am getting toward 74 (I share a birthday with Willie Mays) so maybe that was on my mind.
CT: What is the oldest story in the book and which one is the most recent?
TH: Not sure of this one. There is a story that goes back to Larry Gardner of the early Red Sox days to ones of high school athletes of the last several years.
CT: For those that have never visited, what is unique about life in Vermont?
TH: Aside from the sheer beauty of the state, its small size and the fact that everyone is connected. Everyone seems to know everyone in all corners of the state. It really is the essence of this book.
CT: Do you notice significant regional differences among the people in the state?
TH: Not really. Some parts of the state are more economically impoverished and all have unique characteristics. But people are very much the same and all have an intense pride in the piece of Vermont they are from.
The Northeast Kingdom is thought of as remote and set off from the rest of the state, but once I started going there, I did not find it that way at all.
I mentioned that to a Kingdom resident and his reply was, “Don’t tell anyone.”
CT: When you close your eyes and envision a Vermonter, what do you see?
TH: I hate this answer because it is what everyone has as the picture but I think it is true: Independence and Yankee ingenuity.
CT: What aspect of your career are you must proud of?
TH: That I knew what was important to readers which is emphasis on local sports. I feel commentary on pro sports in Boston is silly for someone working at a local media outlet in Vermont or elsewhere in northern New England. People close to the teams are paid money to get those stories and it is why we pay good money to have Associated Press stories.
I never stray from the mission of paying close attention to local sports and I am proud of that. Our job is to bring the color and stories of the folks who “live next door.”
CT: What role in community life does sports play in Vermont?
TH: It is huge. It is everything. We saw that this past winter when fans were not allowed to attend the high school basketball games. A high school game in Vermont is also a town meeting and a church supper rolled into one. It is a chance to catch up with people in town you see no place else. It warms up the long winter nights.
It was missed and I hope it will be back.
CT: For such a small state, a significant number of athletes have succeeded on the national and international stage. Why do you think that is?
TH: Snow sports. When SI did its top 50 athletes of the past century, Andrea Mead Lawrence was No. 1 and skiers, both Alpine and Nordic, were in abundance on the list. The little town of Norwich has to be on the short list of U.S. communities with the most Olympians per capita.
CT: Describe the worst seats you’ve ever had a sporting event?
TH: Ones at Three Rivers where the players looked like ants. Those cookie cutter stadiums of that era were not good but that problem has been rectified. The newest ones are gems.
CT: What sporting event would you most like to cover that you’ve never covered before?
TH: A six-man state championship football game in Texas. If you have read my book, that might not surprise you.
Follow Tom Haley on Twitter immediately
Then clink the link and go buy Tom’s fantastic new book, Maple Mayberrys and Other Sweet Spots.