Troy Phillips isn't the biggest fan of Rifle High School's move back to Colorado's 4A classification.
"I would have liked more to have stayed at 3A, but that's not a decision I could make," the RHS athletic director said.
Enrollment is what led to Rifle's move back to the 4A classification, as determined by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA). Rifle has spent the past two seasons playing sports in 3A, thanks to sagging student numbers, but a recent enrollment resurgence, along with a drop in the enrollment numbers set for each classification by CHSAA, moved the school back up.
It's a move that has Phillips concerned about his school's chances of competing deep into the postseason. The numbers seem to show it.
"I did some research, and schools that have an enrollment as low as ours have made it to the final eight only 4 percent of the time," Phillips said. "There's a huge competitive imbalance."
CHSAA, when calculating enrollment and classification figures for the 2012-13 school year, dropped the low cutoff number for Class 4A schools to 600. Rifle's enrollment came in at 663.
Phillips, however, said many of the schools with enrollments close to 1,000 are the ones more likely to make a deep postseason run. It creates a possible and proverbial big hurdle to clear for Rifle, which now plays in the state's largest classification of 72 schools.
"There's some of our sports where it's pretty clear we can compete at the 4A level," Phillips said. "There's others where 3A would clearly be better."
Volleyball will be the only sport that will not make the jump to the 4A level. The team will remain in the 3A Western Slope League, following a campaign which saw the Bears finish 2-17 overall. The move does not effect Rifle's football team, which played in the same league as the area's bigger schools.
Rifle will join Battle Mountain, Palisade, Moffat County, Delta, Steamboat Springs, Eagle Valley and Montezuma-Cortez in the 4A WSL, leaving behind the 3A league that included Coal Ridge, Grand Valley, Basalt, Roaring Fork, Aspen, Gunnison, Cedaredge, Hotchkiss and Olathe. The move adds more travel time to Rifle's itinerary for the upcoming seasons, but Phillips said having schools like Coal Ridge and Grand Valley close by for nonleague games could lessen a potential budget crunch. Phillips said he's more focused on the teams facing tougher competition.
From a competitive perspective, Phillips believes sports like wrestling, girls basketball and track and field, all of which saw Rifle among the state's elite at 3A, will have the potential to remain competitive at the 4A level. Though he feels baseball, boys basketball and boys and girls soccer have a chance to be competitive, he admits the depth other schools in the league have is much greater.
The first day for athletic competition at Rifle High School is the weekend of Aug. 30.