Times Staff Writer
It’s an ongoing problem for many high school athletic teams in small mountain towns: having enough players to field a team.
Yet, while participation has fluctuated in other sports in recent years in Colorado, programs such as soccer have continued to grow. And the Gunnison Valley is no different.
By 2020, it’s estimated that about 100 athletes will try out for the Crested Butte High School (CBHS) boys soccer team — with 35 students projected to come from Gunnison. With limitations on the number of players the team can field, that means prospective athletes would get cut, missing out on the opportunity to play high school soccer.
Susan Powers — West Elk Soccer U12 competitive team coach for Gunnison and a sixth-grade language arts teacher — has realized this problem. As a result, Powers is proposing that Gunnison High School (GHS) consider adding a boys soccer team. She plans to make her pitch formally before the Gunnison Watershed RE1J School Board on April 8.
The plan for the program
The hope is for a junior varsity team to be added for fall 2020 — allowing current GHS students Gabi Marmolejo and Josias Navarette to finish their high school careers on the CBHS boys soccer team. Then, Powers hopes that a varsity program would be added at GHS in fall 2021.
A minimum of 14 players are needed to successfully field a high school soccer team, meaning that if 35 incoming students came out to play in 2020, both varsity and junior varsity teams could be filled.
With the success the Gunnison West Elk soccer program has seen in recent years — the U12 team went undefeated in league play last year and swept the competition in the Grand Junction tournament, winning first place — Powers envisions a steady number of soccer players at GHS in coming years.
Adding another program wouldn’t be cheap for GHS. Still, Powers has a plan on how those costs would be covered.
She’s received one-time donations totalling $4,000 to be used to cover the start-up cost of uniforms and equipment. If uniforms and equipment need to be replaced — or post-season expenses need to be covered — the team is willing to fundraise, she said.
The cost of paying for officials is approximated at $2,300, which would be covered by the athletic fees.
The remaining costs needed for the program are estimated at $7,400. Powers has proposed that money come from the cell phone tower revenue or from GHS’ athletic budget.
Powers has even offered to volunteer for the first two years — forfeiting her salary — which could save the school approximately $5,000. That would leave just $2,400 to cover the cost of the program.
Girls team needed, too
However, if GHS were to add a boys soccer team, the school would be required by Title IX law to add a girls team. Most likely, that would mean a girls soccer program.
“I think right now, you could put a team together. It wouldn’t be a huge team but would there be enough to field a team … yes,” said Powers. “I think if girls saw that there was longevity, it would grow.”
The problem is that more money would need to be allocated to support both programs — which GHS leaders say they don’t have.
“That has been our response to every proposal we have had over the last three years, including lacrosse and past soccer proposals,” said GHS Principal Andy Hanks. “They both have had very valid pieces to each of their proposals. However, the bottom line is Gunnison High School doesn’t have the funding available to run more programs. We run 15 sports teams right now and we are pinched to do that and do it well.”
In class 3A, according to Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), on average schools offer 6.45 male sports and 6.33 female sports. Aspen sports the greatest number of programs with both 14 boys and girls CHSAA-sanctioned sports.
GHS offers a total of 15 sports. Twelve of them are “funded” through the school’s athletics budget. Mountain biking, rock climbing and cheerleading are not. And of the 15, five sports are offered to girls, five are offered to boys and five more are co-ed — placing GHS close to average among 3A schools.
Athletics sees competition as well
However, as a result of limited funding, GHS also has had to turn down academic proposals.
“When we did our school survey of classes students would like us to offer two years ago, a resounding number of Gunnison High School students expressed interest in a culinary and hospitality program, which we would like to run through a career- and tech-education program,” said Hanks. “That program does exist. However, due to funding and lack there of, we have never been able to find a way to offer this class to our students. It was number one among ninth through 12th graders, so funding impacts us academically as much as it does athletically. There are a lot of tough decisions that need to be made.”
While GHS sets a budget for athletics, transportation and hotel costs are largely left to best guesses.
For example, with snow covering the baseball field currently, the GHS team will exceed their transportation budget as a result of being forced to play home games on the road. And the amount they go over budget will be deducted from other sports.
Advocates for a soccer program at GHS may present a compelling case. However, school leaders say they’re stuck with a dilemma of what is more important — athletics or academics?
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)