Times Staff Writer
In order for a team to survive, it needs a pool of other programs with which to compete. But when a program is forced to travel into neighboring states for competition, it’s sustainability is thrown into question.
That situation is currently facing the West Elk Lacrosse team, which is vying to be accepted as a Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA)-sanctioned sport in the Gunnison Valley. Thus far, however, the program’s bid has not been successful.
Rain Bodine — art teacher at Gunnison Elementary — started the program four years ago as the general manager for all teams. That included U9, U11, U13, U15 and high school club team. This year, Bodine decided to switch her focus to just the high school-level team, in hopes of seeing it accepted as a CHSAA-sanctioned program.
As a result, U10, U12, and U14 teams this season are run through the Gunnison Parks and Recreation Department. When the West Elk Lacrosse program first started, there were 60 players in the program divided among five teams.
Currently, there are nearly 100 players among the three Parks and Rec teams as well as the high school program — with 20 kids participating on the high school team, and the expectation for the team to grow to 30 players next year.
“We have done really well to start,” said Bodine. “We compete in the less experienced division at the tournaments and have won several tournaments, several years in a row or have come in second.”
Buck Seiling — a CHSAA coach for six years, who started the lacrosse program in Highlands Ranch — is currently the head coach of the high school squad. He’s aided by assistant coach Matt Whiting, who has been with the program for four years.
While the program’s numbers have continued to grow, organizers say the West Elk Lacrosse high school team could come to an end if it is not accepted as a program by Gunnison High School (GHS) or Crested Butte High School (CBHS) for spring of 2019.
“We’ve been working for a couple years to become a CHSAA sport,” said Bodine, “but this year is the big push.”
As a result of its current club status, the West Elk Lacrosse team is forced to travel out of state for competitions, which organizers say is not sustainable in the long run. For instance, the squad recently traveled to Utah for its first game of the season.
“We’ve submitted proposals and accommodated all their requests,” said Bodine of the bid for CHSAA status to leaders of Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District.
She noted that the program is self-supported and has sponsorships, in addition to funding four students at Western State Colorado University to become CHSAA-certified referees. Fielding enough referees was one of many concerns that CBHS and GHS had voiced to Bodine.
Other concerns that were voiced were scheduling, field space, transportation, sustainability and Title IX requirements — all of which Bodine and the nonprofit West Elk Lacrosse program has accommodated, they say. Bodine has even offered to help with scheduling so it doesn’t burden athletic directors with more work.
Additionally, they say field space has been secured, and transportation would be similar to the CBHS hockey team, which doesn’t rely on the school-supported rides to get to games. Rather, West Elk Lacrosse has offered to pay for a bus and even has secured a bus driver currently working on acquiring certification.
“We have parents coming up with the younger programs who are ready to take charge and want to be on the board,” said Bodine of the program’s sustainability. “We are looking to get more members of the board who have younger players so we can have that sustainability to continue on.”
Also, since the West Elk Lacrosse team is co-ed, with one girl currently on the team, organizers say they meet the requirements of Title IX which requires high schools to offer the same number of girls and boys sports.
‘The door is not closed’
Last month, assistant coach Whiting brought West Elk’s proposal to the School Board — outlining the aforementioned accomplishments and history of the program.
On March 8, CBHS Athletic Director Brandin Hamilton responded to Bodine in an e-mail shared with the Times, stating, “After careful consideration of school/district resources Crested Butte is not in a position to take on Lacrosse at this time.”
Yet, in another e-mail March 23, Hamilton stated, “After discussing your proposal further, the district has reopened the discussion as to the possibility of adding lacrosse as a school sport. … We are all looking to make decisions based upon what is best for our students. By no means am I at this point saying that we are adding Lacrosse, but the door is not closed.”
Still, Hamilton is not alone. The Times also reached out to Dave Uhrig — athletic director for GHS — this week, asking for a specific reason why the program has been turned down for CHSAA status.
“Funding for CHSAA sports at GHS is based on our enrollment,” said Uhrig. “The number of students (times) the dollar amount equals the total CHSAA athletic funding.”
That means increasing the number of CHSAA programs would decrease the amount of money GHS can spend per sport. With a myriad of increasing expenses, GHS does not have the budget to add an additional sport, Uhrig said.
Also, Uhrig noted that the West Elk Lacrosse team isn’t the only sport that GHS has had to deny for CHSAA status in 2018, for the same reason stated above.
Yet, lacrosse is growing in Colorado, with 75 high schools currently offering a boys lacrosse program, and 53 fielding a girls lacrosse program. In 2005, only 41 high schools had a boys program and 33 had a girls team.
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)