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Vermont’s governor calls for a return to civility following latest school brawl

Vermont Statehouse and Governor Phil Scott
photos by Pat Bradley
Vermont Statehouse and Governor Phil Scott

Last week a man died after a brawl during a middle school basketball game in northern Vermont. Governor Phil Scott used his weekly media briefing on Tuesday to call for a return to civility.

The January 31st brawl occurred during a 7th and 8th grade basketball game in Alburgh, Vermont. Those involved were adult spectators and by the time police arrived some had left the scene. One of them, 60-year-old Russell Giroux, was driving home when he called for help. He was taken to a hospital and died. His cause of death is still being determined and it is not known if it is related to the fight at the basketball game.

In the wake of the melee and Giroux’s death, Governor Scott called on Vermonters to tone down the acrimony. He noted Alburgh is part of a growing number of incidents at youth sporting events across the state with aggressive spectators and racial slurs being shouted at athletes.

“I understand the passion surrounding sports but it’s clear we have a problem and we should not tolerate the hate," Scott said. "And it’s not just at these events, or sporting events in general, or unique to Vermont. I believe it’s a symptom of a much deeper problem where there’s far too much anger and a lack of respect in our society. We’re constantly being divided into camps where everything has turned into ‘us versus them’.”

The Republican blamed, in part, politicians working to convince people that the opposition is the enemy and the national media using such conflict to drive ratings. Scott said eventually that leads to incidents like the adults fighting at the Alburgh basketball game.

“The idea that a brawl would break out amongst adults, in front of their kids, at a middle school basketball game is just plain sad. What message are we sending? What are we teaching them about how to handle disagreements when this is what they see? The things we say and do carry much more weight than we might think," the governor said. "Regardless of age, we’re all role models for someone.”

In the wake of the brawl, the school district has banned spectators from all home games for the remainder of the basketball season.

In state business, conversation focused on the Budget Adjustment Act, which includes dozens of modifications to last year’s budget and some one-time initiatives. It passed the Vermont House and will now be considered in the Senate. Secretary of Administration Kristin Clouser said the governor’s recommended adjustments included $57 million for one-time initiatives that were simultaneously considered with the proposed 2024 proposed budget.

“The administration greatly appreciates that the House included all of the governor’s initiatives," Clouser said. "The administration also recognizes that several of the smaller investments added by the House should be considered by the Senate. However, the administration is concerned about three sizeable investments which together exceed $80 million in new, additional General Fund spending. These investments may be good investments, but we don’t believe Budget Adjustment is the best place for their consideration.”

Scott and state Democratic leaders disagree on raising taxes to fund new government programs. The governor said with a potential recession on the horizon, additional taxes should be off the table.

“I think there is going to be some sort of recession in the future," Scott said. "Hopefully it looks like it may be a soft landing, which would be great. But at the same time, we have to prepare ourselves for that. We’re already a very high tax state. We can’t add to the affordability issue that we face.”