Some Roaring Fork Schools athletes face extra challenge: travel to be part of their sport
Post Independent Correspondent
Scholar-athlete is a title that many high school students hold, but in this valley, it’s not always for their own school. A lot of students in the Roaring Fork Valley must travel to other schools and teams to compete.
“I like lacrosse a lot and I wanted to play on a varsity team,” said Kendall Knott, a Glenwood Springs High School senior. “I decided to play at Aspen even, opposed to Roaring Fork because Roaring Fork only offered JV and Glenwood doesn’t offer it at all.”
During the spring athletic season, Knott spends about 22 hours a week driving to Aspen High School to play on its varsity lacrosse team.
“There’s definitely joking about coming from another school,” said Knott. “A lot of the other athletes are really accepting of it and give me a lot of kudos for having such a commitment for wanting to spend four hours a day for 12 weeks doing lacrosse.”
If a student’s school doesn’t offer a sport in which they are interested in participating, then the student-athlete is allowed to travel to the closest school that offers the sport under rules of the Colorado High School Activities Association. CHSAA requires “all students to have equal access and opportunities to participate in activities and athletics under the title IX Education Amendment.”
“If Roaring Fork High School doesn’t offer a sport, then I think it’s good that those kids have the opportunity to go and play that sport somewhere else,” said Jade Bath, the RFHS athletic director who, as a former student-athlete was a four-year member of the RFHS girl’s basketball team even though she attended neighboring Colorado Rocky Mountain School.
“It would be nice if they were able to play the sport that they like at the school they attend, but I’ve only heard positive things,” Bath said. “Many students have a lot of friends at both schools.”
Roaring Fork and Basalt high schools support several combined teams, as well, including coed cross country, and boy’s golf and wrestling. The combined approach helps boost numbers for smaller sports programs.
The Basalt/Roaring Fork cross country team fully embraces the shared program with a team motto, “Where the horns come together,” and a special jersey emblazoned with a half Longhorn, half Ram mascot.
But travelling for practice and catching the bus for athletic events is often left to the athletes and their parents, which adds an extra challenge to playing for another school.
Playing for a different school also causes athletes to miss classes.
“I have to leave Glenwood a lot earlier,” said GSHS junior David Zalinski. “It really cuts into work time.”
Zalinski played for the Aspen High School varsity tennis team his sophomore and junior years because, while GSHS offers girl’s tennis, it does not have a boy’s team. He attended a tennis academy in South Carolina for the second half of his sophomore year to work on his game.
“I want to try and be a collegiate player and I just don’t have the resources here (at GSHS) to do that,” said Zalinski.
Sometimes, a student-athlete wants to participate on teams not offered by local high schools.
“I played school sports when I was in middle school, but then I realized that skiing was more important to me,” said Nolen Johnson, another GSHS junior. “I want to put all my attention into the sport I love the most and the AVSC (Aspen Valley Ski Club) ski team up in Aspen is the only one that offers it throughout the valley.”
Johnson has skied on the team for seven years, competing in freestyle skiing statewide and nationally throughout his five-month-long season.
“Coming back in after that week of missing school is really hard to catch up on,” said Johnson.
Travelling student-athletes also feel like they receive less support from their schools.
“It’s hard dealing with two athletic directors,” said Knott. “Our coaches aren’t able to contact our schools easily, so when I have to miss class for practice or games, communicating is a lot harder having to go through double the amounts of people.”
Student-athletes often miss events at their school and part of the high school experience. There’s also the issue of high school camaraderie.
“You do miss out on showing school spirit,” said Paige Gianinetti, a Roaring Fork High senior. “You aren’t necessarily able to participate with your community coming together.”
Gianinetti drives from Carbondale to Glenwood Springs every weekday after school to participate on the GSHS varsity cheerleading squad.
“Cheer has been my main interest for as long as I can remember,” Gianinetti said. “I’m willing to do all that I can to continue what I love. The friends that I’ve made through this opportunity keep me motivated while getting through the Glenwood traffic, and put a smile on my face each day when I walk into the gym.”
Although there are many challenges for student-athletes who travel for their sports, they all say they gain more than they lose.
“I put my Aspen letter on the back of my letter jacket right below the Demon,” said Knott. “I get trouble from Glenwood kids, but I’m proud of my letters and I’m proud that I’ve accomplished more things in more places than many other students have.”