EAGLE - A state education agency is considering barring athletes from sports academies from competing for other schools, even in sports their schools don’t offer.
Locally, the proposed rule change appears aimed at Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, where a handful of students play soccer and football for Battle Mountain High School. The Colorado High School Activities Association says their training and conditioning create an unfair advantage. The CHSAA also says it will help discourage other schools from recruiting these athletes.
The superintendent of Eagle County schools, Dr. Jason Glass, is in Denver to help lead the fight against it. A vote is expected today.
The Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy is the country’s only ski academy that’s a public school affiliated with a local school district.
Traditionally, students have been allowed to compete in sports with neighboring schools, if their school does not offer that sport. Eagle Valley High School hockey players have competed with Battle Mountain’s team for years, because Eagle Valley does not field a hockey team.
Jack Skidmore is a VSSA sophomore and a goalie for Battle Mountain’s soccer team.
He learned about 20 minutes before he walked into principal Geoff Grimmer’s office to learn if it was true. It is, Grimmer told him.
“I get what they’re saying but I don’t agree with it. The extra training helps with athleticism, but I don’t think it has any correlation,” Skidmore said.
He’s one of four VSSA players on Battle Mountain’s soccer team. Of those four - Skidmore, Matt P’ng, Paco Serna and Aaron Milligan - Milligan was the only starter. VSSA’s Ernie Cordova played football for Battle Mountain, as did Clayton Belcher, said VSSA principal Geoff Grimmer.
“It’s not like we’re dominating the team,” Skidmore said. “We’ve worked hard to earn our spots in that program.”
As soccer players they don’t have any training time other than what they have with their BMHS teammates. Because VSSA runs longer schools days in the spring and fall, in the fall and spring soccer players have to miss class to make practice, then make up their class work.
When it’s all added up, VSSA students are in class 1,080 hours, the same as kids in the Denver Metro area, Grimmer said.
In a statement the CHSAA insists that schools that offer specialized training in specific programs “create an inherent advantage in the training of athletes that will carry over to all aspects of competition regardless of sport.”
One step into a Front Range football program likely suggests otherwise, Glass said.
It would not only ban VSSA students from competing with other schools, it would also ban the school from CHSAA membership. However it does not ban CHSAA member schools from competing against VSSA. The school launched a cross country program with the expressed goal of competing interscholastically, but dropped it when the CHSAA ruled it was too similar to cross country. The CHSAA cited nutrition and training time.
Battle Mountain soccer coach Dave Cope said they have a competitive advantage in their sport - skiing - but in CHSAA events they’re not competing in their sport.
“It’s a healthy outlet for them socially and athletically, and it gives them a little different skillset. If it benefits kids I’m in favor of it,” Cope said.
Cope said being an Olympic gold medalist didn’t help Toby Dawson when he played for the Huskies, nor did it help Olympian Sarah Schleper, who used to say she enjoyed the soccer season because she could just be No. 18, Cope said.
“If you asked players from Glenwood Springs or Steamboat Springs which of my players are from the ski academy, they wouldn’t know. They look like just another teenager,” Cope said. “I would miss these kids.”
Clear in his opposition
Glass does not mince words in his opposition, calling the language of the proposal “unclear.”
“Football, baseball, basketball, and others, are arguably specialized sports requiring specialized training,” Glass said in a statement. “It prevents these academies from being CHSSA members, and rules their students as ineligible from interscholastic competition. In total, it seems and ill-conceived, and overreaching effort by CHSSA to penalize student athletes at schools such as Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.”
Colorado High School Activities Association is the governing body for all high school activities in Colorado. Their stated mission includes “providing diverse and equitable opportunities for participation that encourages all qualified students to take part in the activity/athletic experience.”
Glass said the proposed rule change is at odds with that mission statement, because it denies students equal access to other sports because they excel in one area.
“We support all students and their right to compete in the sports of their choice,” Glass said. “A skier at VSSA playing soccer in the off season is no different than an athlete who plays three seasonal sports at a traditional high school, so we will urge CHSSA leaders to carefully consider this rule, which seems contrary to their charter.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.