Changes hit Western Slope prep football in 2014
Special to the Post Independent
The following is a look at the Class 3A, 2A and 1A Western Slope Leagues for the upcoming 2014 football seasons.
CLASS 3A WSL
Eagle Valley 711
Glenwood Springs 797
Central G.J. ** 1,452
Steamboat Springs 645
** -— Denotes playing down
Class 2A WSL North
Coal Ridge 547
Moffat County 504
Roaring Fork 333
Battle Mountain # 794
Class 2A WSL South
Pagosa Springs 395
Montezuma Cortez** 664
Class 1A WSL
Grand Valley 291
Lake County 292
** -— Denotes playing down
# — Must qualify in 3A playoffs
Source: Colorado High School Activities Association
Just like the changing scenery that comes with summer turning into fall, Garfield County high school football teams will see a lot of changes during the 2014 season.
The foes that will line up opposite of area high school teams on Friday nights will actually be, in most cases, similar to years past. There has been some league shuffling, however, due to increases or decreases in school enrollment. Also part of that is a rule handed down by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), which allows schools the opportunity to play down a classification in football if they have not achieved at least a .250 winning percentage during four consecutive seasons.
Some view the CHSAA edict as an unfair reward to programs who have been consistent underachievers, while others see it as a chance for high school athletes to experience the feeling of success on a more level playing field.
The teams in the Class 3A Western Slope League will feel the impact of a changing landscape as Moffat County, due to a lower enrollment, will move down to 2A. Summit and Grand Junction Central enter a league that is already considered by many as the toughest in the state. Summit moved over from the Denver Metro League to join its other sports, which had already been playing in the 4A WSL for the past two seasons. Central dropped down from the 5A/4A Southwestern League after compiling a four-year overall record of 5-35.
The addition of G.J. Central, a school that is only 58 students shy of the 5A classification, opens a Pandora’s Box of questions as to the fairness of a team being allowed to square off against opponents night in and night out that are almost two classes their junior.
Rifle veteran coach Damon Wells, whose team shared the WSL title with Palisade in 2013, has some very straightforward thoughts on the new league alignment.
“I don’t have anything positive to say about it,” said the Bear mentor who is entering his eighth season on the Rifle sidelines. “It’s basically a group of young men being allowed to experience success at the expense of others. There is a big difference between a school with 1,500 kids as opposed to 700 students like ours.
“In football, it’s a game of attrition at times, especially toward the end of the season,” Wells continued. “Our game last season against Coronado is a shining example of this.
“They had a bunch more fresh bodies to run onto the field than we did,” stated Wells, speaking of his team’s 34-31 loss to Coronado of Colorado Springs in the state playoffs, a school with an enrollment of 1,503 students which was playing down a class.
Wells also shared some thoughts on what it would take to make the play down rule a bit more equitable for all involved.
“If the philosophy is to allow schools to experience success by playing down a class, then they should not be allowed to qualify for the post season. Not at the expense of others who are playing where they belong.”
Speaking of the post season, Battle Mountain and Montezuma-Cortez will both drop from the 3A ranks into the 2A version of the WSL because of CHSAA’s play down option. Cortez will be allowed into the 3A playoffs if the Panthers can win the 2A WSL South outright. But Battle Mountain, as mandated by CHSAA during its realignment proceedings, must qualify for the Class 3A state playoffs based on CHSAA’s wild card points system. That rewards teams for factors such as strength of schedule and even margin of victory.
Battle Mountain will play in the 2A WSL North with Aspen, Basalt, Coal Ridge, Moffat County and Roaring Fork, which made the jump from the 1A WSL to the 2A WSL because of an increase in enrollment. The 2A WSL South will have Cortez, Alamosa, Pagosa Springs, Olathe, Gunnison and Bayfield.
Facing off with the new league entries will be used as a motivational tool for third-year Coal Ridge coach Kyle Sager. The Titan front man will hope to get his team to play within themselves against every opponent, every week.
“We just need to be focused on our game each week, doing what we do,” said Sager, who also teaches math at Coal Ridge. “Proper execution, ball security, getting better at something each day is our goal. We’ll look forward to playing everyone on our schedule.”
Meanwhile, Roaring Fork is excited about moving out of the 1A WSL, which contains recent state champions such as Cedaredge, Hotchkiss and Paonia. However, only the league champion is an automatic qualifier from the WSL North, meaning wild card points could be a big factor in reaching the postseason.
“We play Gunnison and Olathe on our nonleague schedule,” Roaring Fork coach Tory Jensen said. “But we’re going to have to treat those like they’re a league game.”
The Grand Valley Cardinals will swap places with the Rams as they drop down, due to enrollment, into the 1A WSL. Also in that league is Meeker and Lake County of Leadville.
How the shifting of teams on the Western Slope plays out in the league standings this season will be an interesting story to follow. Rest assured, regardless of the size of each school, all of them want to script a pleasant journey and a happy ending.
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