Saturday, February 10, 2018

Rural Vermont town is an incubator for Olympic athletes

This post deviates a bit from my usual coverage, but I saw this today and could not resist posting and sharing. In December, The New York Times ran a story about Norwich, Vermont, a small town in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont. Despite being a small town, Norwich has produced a disproportionately high number of Olympic athletes.

The article's strength lies in the underlining of the Norwich values that have helped it nurture athletes and helped them remain grounded as they become successful. The article notes Norwich's strong commitment to community service and the involvement of the community in ensuring that children have the resources and encouragement needed to reach their goals. The article highlights the ideal small town, a place where the word "community" is at the center of everything that they do. One of the most interesting subtexts of the article is the relative lack of anonymity that you would have in a town like Norwich, which is not always as ideal as this article makes it sound.  In this case, however, community appears to be a means through which people empower each other.

The articles does briefly note Norwich's proximity to Dartmouth College, which is no small connection. Hanover, NH, home of Dartmouth, and Norwich are separated only by the Connecticut River and have deep historical ties. In fact, one of the final acts signed into law by President John F. Kennedy created a bi-state school district, the first of its kind, that the two towns share. Norwich even sends its high schoolers to Hanover High School.

The article discusses Norwich's roots as a farming community, which has used its proximity to Dartmouth to transform itself into a bedroom community for people employed either at the College or Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH. The growth of Dartmouth and the fact that it has allowed Norwich to successfully transition away from agriculture and into a more stable economy has been a tremendous boon for the town. What is perhaps most striking is that Norwich made this transition without sacrificing their commitment to creating a strong community. As small towns across the country begin to re-invent themselves, they would be wise to look to places like Norwich to see how they can preserve their commitment to community while still ensuring that their residents (and any potential newcomers) have access to economic opportunity.

I will also admit that the article brought back some feelings of nostalgia for me, having spent four years at Dartmouth and within walking distance of Norwich. One of my favorite memories at Dartmouth was walking across the Ledyard Bridge, which connects Hanover to Norwich and happening upon a carnival on the Norwich town common.  I also have memories of going to Dan and Whit's, driving down those 25 MPH roads that the article mentions, and exploring the beautiful area that envelops Hanover and Norwich.

The Upper Valley is an incredibly special place for me and I always love to see it receive attention on the national level.

No comments: