MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Sen. Harold Giard says he was skeptical when he first saw the bill on the agenda of the Senate Education Committee. “When I first saw it, I said, “What is this?”

But after he heard from the sixth graders from the Swanton Central School, Giard, D-Addison, said he was convinced the idea of making snowboarding the official state sport had a chance to make it into law.

The class descended on the Senate chamber Tuesday afternoon to testify in favor of the idea.

“I think they really did their homework and gave us the facts to back it,” he said.

Katie Cleary, Myriam Bouti, Jocelyn Shusda, Rachel Greenia, Alex Benckert and Michael Wilks took turns at the witness table to tell Senators about their research.

Vermont has played a key role in snowboarding’s development, with Burlington-based Burton Snowboards developing the technology, two recent Olympic gold medalists and a silver medalist hailing from the state, and key national events held within its borders, the students said.

In a class assignment, the kids were asked by teacher Kirsten Belrose and physical education teacher Greg Carpenter to come up with an activity that would qualify for the title of official state sport.

Swanton is a working-class town hard by the Canadian border in the flats along the northern end of Lake Champlain – more a hockey than a snowboarding kind of place. But the kids met with their local legislators and came up with a list of criteria.

The sport had to be something that Vermont had played a unique role in developing, and snowboarding seemed to qualify. Burton was one of the pioneer developers of the snowboard, a bit like a surfboard designed to ride on snow; the first national snowboard race was held in Vermont, at the Suicide Six ski area near Woodstock in 1982. The sport became a Winter Olympics event in 1998.

Greenia, one of the students testifying, recited the litany about Burton Snowboards and about Vermont’s stars of the sport like Ross Powers, Hannah Teter and Lindsey Jacobellis. “The choice is clear,” she concluded. “Snowboarding should be the official state sport of Vermont.”

Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, commended the students for their research and acknowledged that snowboarding had become a huge activity as his association’s member resorts, particularly among younger visitors. But he urged that Vermont adopt two official state sports: skiing and snowboarding.

This didn’t fly with the kids, who testified that New Hampshire beat Vermont to the punch on skiing a decade ago. “Why would we want skiing, when New Hampshire already has it and it wouldn’t make us unique?” asked Benckert.

Senators seemed to relish giving the kids a civics lesson, asking questions geared to getting them to debate likely opponents. Giard said there are no major ski areas in his Addison County district. “There’s nothing there for me. Am I going to get anything out of this?”

He seemed satisfied when told that the new designation would please his snowboarding constituents.

Wilks said he had asked Gov. Jim Douglas where he stood on the snowboarding issue at a legislative breakfast and that the governor was noncommittal. “He didn’t give us a really specific response.”

Sen. Don Collins, D-Franklin, replied, “That’s how he got to be governor.”

When reporters buttonholed Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs outside the governor’s office after the hearing, Gibbs initially answered a question about the proposal in the style of a snowboarding enthusiast who teaches the sport on weekends at Stowe Mountain Resort. “Righteous, dude!” he said.

Snowboarding “definitely rocks,” Gibbs said. But he added, slipping back into his more normal tone, “There are so many exciting recreational opportunities in Vermont it would be very, very difficult to identify just one as the state sport.”

Then Douglas appeared and had this to say about the proposal: “We’ll think about it.”

AP-ES-02-19-08 1805EST

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