Where recreational sports have a reputation as an optional, spare-time, resume-building activity, to be a Demon of Rutland means you’re forever a member of the Demon family.
“It’s the bench that never ends,” said Demons coach Nate Traynor. “The little kids come to the older kids games. They look up to them. They grew up with them.”
The Rutland Demons’ King of the Mountain Tournament earlier this month was no exception: fourth and fifth grade Demons piled into cars outside of Christ the King School after their own games were done, and showed up in force at Glenbrook gymnasium at Castleton University to cheer on the 15 and 16-year old Demons in their games.
“You see them all out there,” Traynor said. “These kids are not going home. They want to be out there on the sidelines.”
Sixty-two teams in 10 divisions, from fourth grade all the way up to 11th, arrived from New Hampshire, New York and Vermont to compete for the gold medals and return home heroes. To do that, they’d have to conquer the spirit of 120 Demons who play nearly year-round between seasons, summer sessions, basketball camps and on their own, in addition to three hours of team practice every week.
“My mom bought me a Little Tykes hoop when I was three,” said Maddox Traynor, point guard and shooting guard for the 15-year-old Demons. “That was when I started.”
Maddox said he hopes to become a basketball analyst at the University of Michigan thanks to a jump-started career with the Demons.
“We think of the sport and tournaments like going to war,” Traynor said. “We send them into foreign territory like a band of brothers. All of us together.”
Demons basketball isn’t just about teaching children the wonder of the sport: for Demons coach Chris Charbonneau, his basketball family became his way out of a troubled youth.
“This saved my life,” said Demons coach Chris Charbonneau. “Seriously. I could have gone either way.”
Charbonneau said growing up in Benson, he had no positive role models to lead him in the right direction.
“The kids I hung around with were always just looking for trouble,” Charbonneau said. “I was always guilty by association.”
Charbonneau said he’d never forget the fateful day that altered his life course, when he met coach Traynor and his two young children, Maddox and Owen, at the park behind Rutland Intermediate School when he was 13 years old.
“We were playing wiffle ball, and I asked him to play with us,” Traynor said. “I could tell he had an old soul. There was something about him.”
Before he knew it, Traynor said, Charbonneau was coming over to his house for family dinners, or just to talk about life. Soon, Charbonneau had become like part of the Traynor family, and started coaching his own teams of fifth and sixth grade Demons just two years later at the Rutland Recreational Center.
“He bought my old Yukon, and he piles it full of kids, and we just hit the road,” Traynor said.
Two years ago, the journey had come full circle: Charbonneau and his mentor coached fifth and sixth grade Demons together for the first time, with Charbonneau as head coach in the Glodzik tournament of West Rutland.
The Demons had been undefeated for the season, when they found themselves down by one point in their last game against Manchester, with a score of 26-27.
“You could see it on their faces in the audience,” Traynor said. “After all of that hard work, we were going to lose the championship.”
Traynor said Charbonneau called a time out with eight seconds left in the game and asked the kids if they wanted to go into overtime or win it then and there.
The kids told their coach they wanted to win it, so Charbonneau devised a plan: the ball would go to Jacob Woods, who would pass it to Owen Traynor to take the shot to play for a three-pointer. The ball bounced back off the rim, and made its way back to Traynor, who took one final leap-of-faith shot to sink the ball and end the game with the Demons up 29-28, securing an undefeated season and Glodzik gold.
Today, Charbonneau is the Junior Varsity Head Coach and Assistant Varsity Coach at Mount St. Joseph Academy.
“It’s the Demon way of paying it forward,” Traynor said. “We create a brotherhood, one that will always be there.”
The Demons of Rutland come from all over Vermont, from Windsor County to Orwell, and their reputation for tactical play and a will to succeed is reaching across state lines, Traynor said.
“We’re a small state here,” Traynor said. “They like to think they can take advantage of us, but we’re becoming the Vermont team that nobody wants to play.”
To be a Demon isn’t about being the victor, Traynor said.
“We’re keeping kids off the streets and putting them on courts,” Traynor said. “I always said you grow as big as your fish bowl will let you. We’re trying to give these kids the biggest fish bowl.”
Traynor said the biggest challenge for Demon parents and coaches it knowing the struggles that await their players. “We put our kids in situations where they experience hardship, loss, and tears,” Traynor said. “But adversity brings strength. We want them to flourish in the toughest environments.”