By Curt Peterson
On Tuesday, May 4, the Killington Select Board considered a request by the Killington Softball League (KSL) to utilize the town’s baseball fields this summer.
Dave Hoffenberg, the league’s commissioner since 2006, said the league would like to return to Killington. Last year the season was interrupted in July after a disagreement between Hoffenberg and Sarah Newell, director of Parks & Recreation, which resulted in a two-week suspension of the league’s access to the town fields.
According to Hoffenberg, last year the pandemic had shortened their season from three months to two, and the imposed interruption would mean a lost season. So, in an effort to salvage it, Hoffenberg approached the Barstow School District in Chittenden, and the league finished the season on those school fields.
“We were glad to have a place to play,” Hoffenberg said, “but it isn’t as nice as Killington’s and we lost a lot of balls over there.”
The league’s request to return to Killington led to a discussion about what happened on July 23, 2020, to cause the original suspension. Hoffenberg explained that after a game he had organized a “small potluck barbecue” for the players. Director Newell stopped by, and registered a complaint with Hoffenberg.
He said she claimed the league was violating both their agreement with the town and state Covid guidelines.
Newell specified that the league event violated the agreement regarding players leaving the field immediately after games, and using an area behind the library that is reserved for concerts and other library/town events only.
“We would never give anyone permission to use that area for pop-up tents and a potluck dinner,” Newell said.
Newell suggested the league receive a “warning” against violations of their agreed-to proposal, but Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth insisted instead on a two-week suspension.
On July 29 the Mountain Times published a letter to the editor from Hoffenberg, listing his objections to the suspension and the evolving complicated restrictions of public gatherings outdoors.
He believed current restrictions on July 23 allowed up to 100 people to gathered outside. Newell, who attends weekly state Dept. of Health conference calls about recreation guidelines, said his interpretation of the guidelines for softball leagues in particular, was inaccurate.
The state did change guidance frequently and “more strict requirements continued right through the winter months,” she said.
As the Select Board broached the topic of KSL’s use of the fields this year, Board Member Jim Haff has the town manager to screen-shared what he called a “social media post,” in which Hoffenberg had used profanity and misogynist language regarding Newell, and threatening language if KSL was denied use of the fields this summer.
Hoffenberg, who was unaware his message was going to be made public, told the Mountain Times, “I said it. I can’t take it back. But it wasn’t a social media post — it was a screen shot of a private message sent to six coaches of our teams. One of them must have leaked it.”
Throughout the short discussion, Hoffenberg sat silently.
Newell said she is very interested in more adult sports using Killington’s fields, and KSL’s long-term relationship makes their return very attractive.
Selectman Jim Haff moved to give permission to KSL to use the town fields but with two strict conditions. First, the league must appoint a new commissioner to replace Hoffenberg. Second, the formerly independent league must become an official program of the Killington Recreation Dept. under its supervision.
In an email, Newell said, “Dave felt empowered to disrespect an agreement we had together, and then to speak to me and about me in aggressive and disrespectful ways. I can’t trust him to respect any program staff who would have to enforce the rules. I certainly wouldn’t put a young seasonal staff member in a position to [bear] the brunt of his aggression.”
Under the new conditions, KSL players would have to register with Parks & Recreation and pay a fee to the town. They will also continue to have to raise their own funds for uniforms, equipment etc. as they have always done. The players would all sign waivers individually, and provide contact tracing information when required.
Josh Stevens is considering taking over as commissioner of the league. Newell said they are setting up a time to go over the relationship.
“This year we have had 50 kids sign up for our baseball program for the first time ever,” Newell said. “Scheduling has become very complicated as we want everyone, including the softball league, to have the field time they need.”
Haff’s motion passed unanimously, but when Hoffenberg asked to speak, Haff objected. Selectman Chuck Claffey and Board Chair Steve Finneran overrode his objection and let Hoffenberg speak. Haff left the meeting.
Hoffenberg made a sincere apology for his text.
At the meeting Hoffenberg agreed to help find his replacement as commissioner, supporting Josh Stevens for the position if that could work out. However, in an email to the Mountain Times, Monday, May 10, Hoffenberg said he was reconsidering alternatives.
“As of now, I can take it back to Barstow starting June 10. Most don’t have a problem with that and enjoyed playing there last year but I will lose at least one team if that happens,” Hoffenberg wrote. “I still would love to have it in Ktown but I’m not sure. There are so many questions the town has to answer because they want to step in but have no clue what that entails,” he continued. “June 10 is late but Ktown said we can’t start in May anyway so not that much of a difference. Needless to say, I am discouraged.”