Proponents for two high school sports who have long advocated for their addition in Gunnison Watershed RE1J schools have reason to celebrate. Superintendent Leslie Nichols on Friday announced both lacrosse and a south-valley soccer program will be added to the line-up of high school offerings.
The announcement comes about two years after the initial pitch for lacrosse was made, and about nine months after a soccer program at Gunnison High School (GHS) was proposed before School Board.
Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the district will add boys soccer, a fall sport, at GHS and boys lacrosse, a spring sport, at Crested Butte High School. Both will be probationary sports for four years under the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) and will undergo annual reviews.
“I was beside myself when I heard. I almost could not believe it,” said lacrosse advocate Rain Bodine. “We’ve worked toward this for a long time.”
Bodine said she is excited both sports were accepted, because by doing so, more students will be impacted.
“We’re always trying to reach more students, and our students are changing, so it’s great to see us being more progressive with our sports,” said Bodine. “I’m excited for the next generation of kids. I think it’s really a step forward and there will be growth in both programs.”
Likewise, soccer proponent and sixth grade teacher Susan Powers gave credit to Nichols and district leaders, noting the benefit to students by adding both programs.
“Kids who are involved in extracurricular activities and sports are more successful in school, so having options for all kids to be involved in a sport that they are passionate about can only be positive,” Powers wrote in an e-mail. “I look forward to working with our committee to ensure that the soccer program is built to be one that players, Gunnison High School, parents and the entire community will be proud to have.”
The nuts and bolts
Agreements between the district and each sport’s advocacy committee, Nichols said, are currently being reviewed. Each committee must contribute startup costs, including for uniforms and equipment, as well as ongoing annual equipment, transportation and lodging costs for all four probationary years.
“Year one” soccer startup costs are estimated at $4,000, while costs for lacrosse are $7,000. Ongoing annual costs to be covered by the committees for each sport are about $4,300.
The district will pay for coaches’ wages, officials, CHSAA and league fees, medical and training supplies and funds toward a five-year uniform replacement cycle. The district has agreed to pay any outside facility use fees — for example, to use property owned by the City of Gunnison, Western Colorado University, Crested Butte South Metropolitan District or Town of Crested Butte.
District revenue will include participation fees of $125 per player as well as facility use fees ($30 per player for soccer and $50 per player for lacrosse).
Nichols estimated that the impact to the district’s general fund for the 2020-21 school year will be about $16,500 total for both sports. Athletics account for about 1.5 percent of the total district budget of approximately $22 million.
“Expanding opportunities for our students in this way is a well-placed priority,” Nichols said. “Athletics are a critical engagement and social/emotional support tool for high school students, as well as a great way to gather our community in support of positive youth development.”
Lacrosse advocates first approached district leaders in March 2018 to consider adding the sport as a CHSAAsanctioned activity. As a result of its club status, the West Elk Lacrosse team was forced to travel out of state for competitions, which organizers said was not sustainable in the long run.
CHSAA teams are only permitted to play other sanctioned teams. Three GHS students traveled to Montrose last year to continue playing as a part of that city’s high school team.
With the growing popularity of soccer in the Gunnison Valley, parents and other proponents approached the district last spring to add a second program based in Gunnison. The district currently has a CHSAA team based in Crested Butte. However, due to the growing number of students trying out and the travel logistics for Gunnison students, parents wanted the district to field the second team.
Additionally, by forming a Gunnison team, students who may not have the opportunity to travel to Crested Butte for practice would be accommodated.
Yet, district leaders hesitated due to the expense of adding the sports and the impact it could have on already existing programs. Additionally, concerns arose about how to meet federal Title IX standards while adding two boys sports.
Equity for all
Title IX law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Nichols said the district will tightly monitor Title IX compliance.
“Title IX does not require the same number of sports for each gender,” Nichols said. “Title IX does require that programming provide equity by gender, meaning that the district needs to work toward having the percent of student-athlete girls about equal to the percent of enrolled girls, and the percent of studentathlete boys about equal to the percent of enrolled boys.”
Student interest, Nichols noted, also is a factor in establishing gender equity. The district will conduct surveys on an annual basis to gauge interest in other sports which Nichols said could expand “opportunities for gender equity.”