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Taylor Coppenrath, Pride Of West Barnet, Vermont

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy

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Mr. President, today I salute a key member of the first University of Vermont men's basketball team ever to participate in the NCAA Tournament. Taylor Coppenrath is the Vermont version of Larry Bird, a smalltown boy who found huge success on the basketball court.

Taylor's basketball excellence has transformed his hometown, tiny West Barnet, VT, into perhaps, on a per capita basis, our State's most basketball-crazy town, and with good reason. During his career at St. Johnsbury Academy, Taylor did not make the varsity squad until his junior year, but when he finally arrived, his presence was felt. Taylor was named Vermont's 2000 Player of the Year by USA Today and Gatorade, and Mr. Basketball by the Burlington Free Press.

When Taylor joined Coach Tom Brennan's University of Vermont Catamounts, he had an immediate impact, and was named the 2002 America East Rookie of the Year, and earned All-America East, second team honors. During this season, he was named the Kevin Roberson America East Player of the Year, an honor appropriately named for one of UVM's all time greatest players. Taylor has attracted national attention, including a mention on ESPN.com's The Radar Screen. An opposing coach, Tim Welsh of Providence College said of Taylor, ``I'm glad we only have to play him once this year.''

Taylor Coppenrath's story is perhaps best told by award-winning writer Sam Hemingway of the Burlington Free Press in his column of Wednesday, March 19. I ask that the column ``Basketball Star Makes West Barnet Proud'' be printed into the Record.

The article follows:

Shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday, the quiet hamlet of West Barnet will grow even quieter. Sharon Roy will put her small, seldom-used black-and-white television on the counter at the West Barnet General Store and see whether she can capture WCAX-TV Channel 3 on the screen. Meg Clayton has a better plan. Her good friends, the Coppenraths, have a satellite dish, and because they''ll be away in Utah, she intends to stop by and ``check on their cat'' for a couple of hours. Over at the Barnet School, the afternoon in-service session for teachers should end in time for the staff to check out the cable television hook-up installed at the school this week. The focus of all this television attention: hometown hero Taylor Coppenrath. The 6-foot, 8-inch forward will be on network television, leading the University of Vermont men's basketball team in its first-ever NCAA appearance, against the University of Arizona. The funny thing is, no one in these parts really saw this day coming five years ago. The funnier thing is that, now that it's happening, no one's that surprised about it. ``He's such a sweetie,'' said Karen Stewart, the principal of Barnet School. ``He was always very mellow, very easy going.'' He still is. Neighbor Liddy Roberts recalled how, last year, Coppenrath and her son, Jimmy, were home on spring break and spent a whole day making an igloo for a youngster in town albeit one big enough for Coppenrath to stand up inside. ``And, of course, he and Jimmy had to go out and cook up some hot dogs inside the igloo afterward,'' she said. Under that unassuming exterior lurks the heart of a lion, however. As a kid, Coppenrath played so hard at recess, some teachers said, the school created the Taylor Coppenrath Rule: If you come in from recess soaked in sweat like he did, make sure you have a set of dry clothes to put on afterward. Name a game, and Coppenrath was ready to play it. Games filled the idle hours for kids in the village, none more so than basketball. The sound of a bouncing basketball often echoed through town from dawn to dusk. Sometimes the games involved Coppenrath and his two best friends, Clayton's son Chris and Roberts' son Jimmy. Other times, it drew in entire families, passers-by, anyone who wanted to play. ``We even had family tournaments,'' said George Coppenrath, Taylor's father. ``You had mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, all bumping and shoving each other out there. It was fun.'' Basketball became such a fixture in West Barnet that six years ago a paved, full-sized basketball court with two backboards and hoops was built smack dab in the middle of the village. Still, the chances of a small-town kid from Vermont making a big splash in Division 1 college basketball are as remote as West Barnet itself, tucked into the hills 15 miles southwest of St. Johnsbury. Coppenrath, who kept growing taller throughout high school, was a late-blooming star. He didn't make the varsity at St. Johnsbury Academy until his junior year, a year after his two West Barnet buddies had made the team. Only as a senior did he finally receive the recognition he deserved: Vermont's Gatorade Player of the Year, The Burlington Free Press' Mr. Basketball and a full scholarship from UVM. This winter he led the Catamounts in scoring and was named the player of the year in the America East basketball conference. How crazy is this town for basketball now? George Coppenrath has taken to making video tapes of UVM games and leaving them at the two stores in town for people to borrow and watch. Tuesday, all of the West Barnet General Store's copies were out on loan.