Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?
Peter Lange, publisher of Ski Racing Media and Alpine coach of youth up to the World Cup level for more than 35 years, remembers a day when Dynastar used to send money to get kids to ski camps.
“That is so gone,” he laughs. “Equipment and access and all these things cost money and yes some people can afford it and have an advantage, but that is true in other sports. How important is the car in Formula 1? It’s part of the sport.”
Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?
Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline
Part IV: What happened?
Part V: The Leever Study
Part VI: The importance of Idraet
Part VII: U.S. cross-country skiing’s trail to gold
Part VIII: An American answer
A veteran of covering and coaching the sport across the globe, Lange has noted that the cost issue in skiing is not unique to the U.S.
“The reality is, it’s true everywhere,” he said. “The expense of ski racing is rocketing all over.”
Given the sport’s inherent relationship with technology, the equipment piece of the puzzle is bound to only get worse.
“The equipment has to get more expensive,” Lange prophesied. “The companies are not making the kind of money they used to. There’s more technology, higher priced materials and more engineering.”
Even though sticker-shock might discourage would be participants, in the overall scheme of things, the major factor in the cost battle — particularly for Americans — is travel.
“Our particular problem is amplified because we have to have overseas flights to Europe,” Lange explained, noting that cost of equipment probably plays the smallest role.
“Let’s not forget, this is a European-centric sport and the European model, because of the close proximity to year-round skiing, it’s very expensive for people to get a lot of volume at a young age,” added Dan Leever, who spent thousands of hours interviewing many European thought-leaders, athletes and coaches on the topic of development in producing The Leever Study, a project discussed later in this series. The prevailing opinion given to him was the U.S. shouldn’t simply copy the European method. Easy access to snow was a big reason.
“For us to ski in the summer, you have to get in an airplane and go somewhere,” he said.
Intentional skill acquisition on snow, at an early age, was one of the irreplaceable tenets for success Leever uncovered in his research. Along with a myriad of other club and competition-related costs, Leever feels U.S. Ski and Snowboard has not effectively told parents what they’re getting themselves into when their daughter claims she wants to be the next Picabo Street.
“So, we historically have not communicated well to parents of upcoming skiers just what the path requires if you want to take it to an Olympic level. And that requires a lot of volume young. There’s just no other way around it,” he said.
Some nations such as Switzerland and Austria don’t have to worry about travel and training camp costs because year-round access to snow is abundant and proximal to team members. Meanwhile, U.S. skiers ring up large bills living what Lange said is “the hotel and restaurant life.”
“That adds to our expense when we’re talking about the top,” he said.
Even with their geographical advantages, financial problems have hindered Alpine-rich nations. Slovenia put out one slalom racer on the Europa Cup circuit this past season.
“That is shocking,” Lange said.
“It is an Alpine ski nation. They don’t have enough people who can afford the sport to produce more than one qualified athlete. There was two, and one quit. It’s the same reason — it takes so much resource.”
Lange believes U.S. Ski and Snowboard would love an answer to the cost problem.
“There’s been all sorts of initiatives to take cost out of ski racing by some very wealthy people in the industry. It’s such a difficult one to solve,” he said, adding that it isn’t helpful to resent those with more resource or talent.
“There have been people trying to answer this question with resource. It’s not like it’s not being considered and looked at or that people aren’t aware of it, but the answer is not an easy one.”
Few have invested the kind of resource into the topic as Leever, who watched two of his sons progress through the Alpine pipeline and spearheaded the aforementioned study on trends in elite development in Europe.
“Typically, most elite programs for development in Europe, if not free, are very inexpensive and underwritten oftentimes by the government,” he said. “As a result, it’s much less expensive to pursue an elite track in ski racing.”
Leever doesn’t expect the price of the sport to ever go down.
“That’s never going to change. It’s always going to be expensive by its very nature, but there are a lot of things that can be done to make it less so,” he said. “And some of those things are a matter of educating families.”
An exaggerated focus on traveling and racing is one area families have been led astray.
“Mikaela Shiffrin raced very little growing up,” Leever pointed out. “A dozen times per year compared to kids doing 50 times per year. That’s just a waste of money. It’s been proven over and over again that the skill acquisition is more important than the ‘learn-to-race’ aspect.”
To achieve elite performance in skiing, Leever believes there’s a “well-proven pathway,” that parents have sometimes been sheltered from.
“The U.S. didn’t really articulate that,” he said of the route to the top. “I think that many people or at least some people in the U.S. knew it but they were afraid to tell parents for fear that nobody would do it at all because it was too big of a commitment. And it is the type of commitment that one typically buys into over time.”
Leever has seen some initiatives, particularly in Vail, that have worked wonders in bringing the overall cost down.
“There are clear amazing initiatives, and I think (Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy) is one of them. Where the school district has created a ski academy that’s free to the students, that’s for the local kids, is part of their options available to them,” he said.
“The other thing that’s a big deal, particularly in Vail, is the amount of charitable support that’s available,” he continued. “The kids who ski in Vail, if they’re not well to do, have amazing support available to them. As much as 100% of the total cost of ski racing can be absorbed by scholarships and grants. That’s typically not available anywhere else. So that’s a very powerful model that we have.”
Lange also believes charging its national team athletes was never a part of U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s plan, but the alternative would have been worse.
“It just got to the point where they didn’t have enough support or sponsorship to do it,” he stated. “So, rather than cut the number of athletes on the team, they offered the team, but at a price.”
As idealistic as things were in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the way Leever and Lange see it, those days are gone.
“The days of equipment being free or largely free are over,” Leever stated. “The reason for that is that the skiing market matured and the lack of growth just didn’t provide the funding from the ski manufacturers to be able to give away a lot of equipment. It’s just a different world today than it was 20 years ago.”
Lange agrees, noting that for better or for worse, the days of $100 club fees are in the rearview mirror.
“Back in the day — those days are gone,” he said, noting that the sport’s evolution has fueled the arm’s race as much as disillusioned parents, believing they have to pounce on every opportunity possible, have.
“We make parents and athletes feel like, ‘God, you gotta participate at the NorAm or the FIS level,’” he said. Lange thinks all levels of competition — Buddy Werner, CHSSL, FIS, USSA and NCAA should be validated in and of themselves.
“It itself, standing alone, Buddy Werner is awesome. Not because its a pipeline to the ski team. High school, in itself, is valid. USSA is valid, not because it’s a pipeline to NorAm,” he outlined. “The problem is that parents in their own mind don’t think they’re valid because they know somebody with some money whose kid is on the NorAm circuit and now their kid is going to get the scholarship to the University of Denver,” he hypothesized.
Leever echoed Lange’s sentiment that elite-level skiing shouldn’t be the ‘be-all-end-all.’
“There are pathways for everyone in this sport that can be fantastic. If you’re not looking to achieve an elite level, you want to ski for a high school team, you don’t have to ski year round for that,” Leever said.
While Lange applauds those searching for answers and has shepherded athletes from grassroots to the World Cup, the way he sees it, the focus should be on the journey, no matter what hierarchy it takes place on.
“The top is in and of itself not valid,” he stated. “It’s only the journey that got you there and the friends you made along the way. Relationships are the only lasting value.”
At the end of the day, Lange, who has observed the sport from multiple angles for decades, says there is no easy answer to widening the base and increasing international performance.
“We’re facing headwinds that are real and the solution is not simple.”
Perhaps one uniquely American aspect of the solution that has been overlooked — or at least misused — is the NCAA.
Check out Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline in tomorrow’s Vail Daily.
In yesterday’s “Part 1: Inside the skiing pipeline,” the 1982 World Cup was stated as taking place in Waterville, Maine when it was in fact held in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire.
Western Slope recognizes girls soccer all-conference award winners
Vail Mountain School claimed conference coach and player of the year honors and Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain received a bevy of end-of-year recognition in the Western Slope 3A/4A girls soccer conference awards, released Thursday.
Liv Moritz won 3A conference player of the year and her Gore Ranger coaching staff — Brian Sweeney, Bob Bandoni, Liana Sideli, Maddie Lindley and James Kenley — were given coaches of the year awards. Moritz had six goals and 12 assists in eight games to help the Gore Rangers to a 15-3 season record and 7-0 league mark. Bandoni and his staff guided the team to a Western Slope League title.
“I am very happy to be chosen,” Moritz stated in an email.
“This honor is really a reflection of my teammates, the coaches and the support we give each other on and off the field. I will miss the seniors but am very excited about the Vail Mountain School team next year and the future!”
Emily Gash, Gaby Gish and Stella Stone joined Moritz on the all-conference first team, with Kjersti Moritz and Hannah Serbinski earning honorable mention.
Eagle Valley’s Jess Platt earned coach of the year in the 4A Western Slope League after turning around a Devils team that was 1-9 in 2021. The Devils were competitive in the league race through its final week, finishing 7-6 to narrowly miss the postseason. They also defeated rival Battle Mountain for just the second time in 23 meetings and also upset Vail Mountain School in a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory, a game in which Tatum Coe scored four goals. Coe earned first team all-conference, along with fellow Devils Sophie Webster and Jaquelyn Castellon. Reagan McAdams was honorable mention all-conference.
Liz Keiser, Fiona Lloyd and Cassie Ledezma represented Battle Mountain on the first team, with Molly Reeder and Elle Glendinning earning honorable mention.
Steamboat Springs’ Courtney Vargas and Glenwood Springs’ Ella Johnson were co-players of the year.
Eagle Valley and VMS golfers headed to state tournament
Six local golfers will compete in the CHSAA state golf tournament next week after stellar performances at their respective region championships. Eagle Valley’s Kylee Hughes and Anna Gill qualified for the 4A state championships after finishing second and sixth, respectively, at the 4A Region 4 tournament on Monday in Montrose, and Vail Mountain School qualified as a team after placing second in the 3A Region 4 tournament on Tuesday in Alamosa.
“Playing well at state has been the goal this season and Kylee and Anna are playing great golf right now,” coach Zachary Haglin stated.
Hughes shot a 75 at Cobble Creek in Montrose for her second place finish while Gill tied for sixth with an 84. Sofia Choi of Mullen shot 68 to win. The 4A tournament will take place at Tiara Rado Golf Course in Grand Junction.
“It’s all about putting together two solid rounds and I will enjoy watching them play their last high school event before going to play at the collegiate level,” Haglin said.
“It has been a pleasure to coach Kylee and Anna and I look forward to seeing them play at Tiara Rado next week.”
Gore Ranger athletes Ava Crowley, Annika Shikverg, Madison Milligan and Logan Nobrega will play in the 3A state tournament May 31-June 1 in Broomfield. Other team members included Sage Sappenfield, Emily Law, Samara Hitt, and Sarah Katherine Baumer.
Valley athletes and coaches earn all-conference recognition
Players from Vail Mountain School, Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley High School were awarded 11 of the 19 spots on the Western Slope boys lacrosse all-conference team. Eagle Valley’s Erich Petersen earned conference player of the year, while VMS coach Steve Michel and Battle Mountain assistant Chris Inks earned coach and assistant coach of the year, respectively.
Petersen, his younger brother Julius and his senior teammate Eric Hasley all earned All-state nods as well. Petersen was one of six 4A first-team attackmen while Julius and Hasley were named to the second team. Vail Mountain defenseman Owen Grimmer also made the state second team.
In his first year at the helm, Michel led VMS to a 9-1 league record, with the only loss coming at the hands of Aspen. The Gore Rangers faced the Skiers for a third time in the second round of the 4A state tournament, falling 12-10.
Inks helped a young Battle Mountain team improve to 10-7 in 2022 after a 5-5 2021 campaign. The Huskies ended their regular season league schedule with a memorable 10-9 double-overtime win against the Devils after losing 16-8 earlier in the year.
Petersen led his team with 94 points this season, scoring 43 goals and notching 51 assists, 27 more than the second-most on his team. In November, he announced his plans to attend Colorado Mesa to continue his academic and athletic career. Hasley was the leading goal-scorer with 55.
Western Slope boys lacrosse 2022 all-conference selections
Connor Provencher, VMS
Mason Geller. VMS
Tucker Devlin, Aspen
Erich Peterson, Eagle Valley
Eric Hasley, Eagle Valley
PJ Kessenich, Battle Mountain
Kellen Adams, Steamboat Springs
Julius Peterson, Eagle Valley
Judd Gurtman, Aspen
Carter Large, VMS
Pete Hughes, VMS
Jeffrey Hubler, Steamboat
Owen Grimmer, VMS
Carter Schmela, Aspen
Nolan Minor, Eagle Valley
Andrew Kempers, Steamboat Springs
Leo Rothenberg, Battle Mountain
Jac Crowe, Summit
Tyger Campisi, Aspen
Head Coach of the Year
Steve Michel, VMS
Assistant Coach of the Year
Chris Inks, Battle Mountain
Conference Player of the Year
Erich Peterson, Eagle Valley
Salomone: Getting ready for summer
If you stretch out along the riverside in the afternoon sun, you can feel the edge of summertime on your skin. Fly-fishing has been stellar recently, and the best is yet to come. Long days, cool nights and trout rising to dry flies make summer fly-fishing on Gore Creek and the Eagle River as good as it gets.
The pine trees have an effervescence that permeates the High Country air. The river pulses with the flow of the runoff that helps spur springtime into summer. The Eagle River shows her best face during the summer months. Anglers should be getting ready now if they haven’t already.
Stocking up on specific fly supplies now will prevent the “Uh-oh” experience anglers encounter on the water when they reach for a frequently used item only to find it low, empty or left at home.
Terminal supplies need constant replenishment. That spool of 6X tippet from last summer is down to its last few rolls, but you won’t know it with the elastic sitting tightly on the spool. Check your tippet — is it time for a few new spools?
Leaders are another consumable that anglers will need to replenish. Some anglers will try to make a leader last for weeks, tying on more tippet or by using tippet rings. Others will blow through a pair of leaders in an afternoon if they are unaware of their casting.
Often overlooked consumables such as weights, dry fly floatant or desiccant enhance your dry fly-fishing and should be purchased often. Arriving at the river expecting a stellar day of fishing with no floatant will severely hamper your performance and success.
Boot laces are an often overlooked item that seem to fail at inopportune times. A spare pair of laces kept in your truck or tucked into a pocket on your vest or sling pack can save your afternoon or maybe that of a fellow angler.
Regularly used flies should be bought when numbers start getting low. The Eagle River is a well known caddis river. Anglers without an elk hair caddis are going to suffer when the dry flies are on the water. Better check your box and see just how many you have left.
Stoneflies are another key insect for the Eagle River. Fly anglers know when the stonefly husks are on the rocks, big dry flies should be on your rod. An added advantage of big, bushy dry flies is their ability to support the ultra effective, jig-hooked nymphs like the perdigon. This is a very effective dry dropper rig for the Eagle River.
Summertime is the arena for the specialty fly rod. It might be a high country dry fly rod or a short little water fiberglass — even a new Euro Nymphing rod. Whatever it is, summer is the time to play for all fly anglers.
One of the things that enhances our time on the water is the pleasure derived from our equipment. I’m waiting on a very special Montana Brothers 4wt dry fly rod. This Montana Brothers rod will help me get my casting groove on all summer long.
Another aspect of getting ready for summer: Have you practiced your casting? Dry flies often require pinpoint casting precision for success. Of course we can improve on the water but the angler who has been perfecting their casting will enjoy their experience just a little bit more.
A topic that has been covered before, but needs a brief mention again, would be wader attention or repair. Nothing is more disappointing than wading into the cool waters of the Eagle River to discover your right leg is feeling noticeably colder than the left. Water inside waders will discourage most anglers. A small amount of attention now will ensure your waders perform as expected throughout the summer months.
Waders with pinhole leaks should be repaired from the inside. A minuscule amount of Aquaseal placed over the pinhole on the inside keeps your waders looking tight and working perfectly instead of being ransacked by pinhole patches. A flashlight and a dark room will illuminate any problems.
Summer is rapidly approaching. Making a visit into Vail Valley Anglers fly shop is a great way to prepare yourself for the summertime action on Gore Creek and the Eagle River. A little attention now sets up any angler for the best fly-fishing of the year.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites including, Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow Labrador retrievers.
Inside the skiing pipeline: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)
On March 4, 1982 in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire — exactly four decades before it failed to medal at the Beijing Olympics — the U.S. women’s Alpine ski team clinched the 1982 Nation’s Cup, a title calculated by adding every point in a season for all racers from a given nation.
It was the first — and remains the only time — the United States has claimed the title.
Inside the skiing pipeline: A Vail Daily series
Part I: How we won all that gold (and how we can do it again)
Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?
Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline
Part IV: What happened?
Part V: The Leever Study
Part VI: The importance of Idraet
Part VII: U.S. cross-country skiing’s trail to gold
Part VIII: An American answer
“We were loaded. The U.S. team was so deep,” said John McMurtry, the coach of the U.S. women’s Alpine team from 1976-1984, in an interview with the Vail Daily’s Randy Wyrick in 2014.
Cindy Nelson remembers the star-studded lineup on both the women’s and men’s Alpine teams.
“Anyone could win on any given day,” she recalled of the tightly-knit group. She remembered how the Mahre twins, Steve and Phil, could “finish each other’s sentences.”
“(Tamara McKinney) was super strong, (Christin Cooper) was super strong, I was super strong. We had a lot of skiers that were good,” she said. “I didn’t want any of them to beat me, but yet, you give the course report back up if you were the first one down the mountain so that your teammates knew if something was different than how it looked in inspection. Somehow, we all became great teammates for each other and I think that was the difference.”
At the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, McMurtry’s team won more Alpine medals than any other country. In the giant slalom, Debbie Armstrong won gold, Christin Cooper won silver, and Tamara McKinney (the first American woman to win the overall World Cup title and World Cup slalom title) placed fourth in a telling display of dominance. The year McKinney won the overall, Nelson was second. The Vail resident was no. 1 before tearing her ACL in Val d’Isere, France.
“We have been there — the number one team in the world,” McMurtry flatly stated in a recent phone call.
“Difficult to do in today’s world, but it was difficult then, too,” added Nelson.
‘There’s got to be radical change’
While no one has carte blanche in speaking to the wider scope of the U.S. Ski Team’s historical performance, some are certainly more qualified than others. If there are people capable of providing an educated insight, McMurtry is one of them.
“I think I’ve got a background,” he humbly stated.
In collecting thoughts from a myriad of voices, including several current and former U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches and one prominent Norwegian, a theme emerged in analyzing the overall structure and direction of U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
Examining the national governing body’s development pipeline health — the key cog in the wheel of elusive consistent international success — reveals an ugly illness infecting all of American youth sports: an increased professionalization and subsequent crippling cost of participation. Coupled with a lack of meaningful access and pedagogically appropriate steps in the development ladder, the participation pool for all winter sports has shrunk.
While the different disciplines underneath U.S. Ski and Snowboard have unique narratives in regard to this discussion, some elements appear collective in nature.
Where the U.S. has established global dominance — basketball, football and track and field — it harmonizes youth, interscholastic and collegiate systems with national teams, consistently churning out elite professionals as the cream rises to the top of a wide base.
Conversely, the nature of skiing — one bound to a relationship with mechanical forces like friction and gravity (where increasing grind and ski selection options and expensive wax plant the seeds of cost-inherent advantages), and dependent upon early skill acquisition through structured on-snow practice, expensive clubs and travel-laden competitive schedules — attracts a minority willing and able to engage in the financial arms race required for surviving and thriving in the current pathway.
Perhaps most importantly, in its stubborn search for the next superstar, some sense the nation has lost perspective on what ought to be its most fundamental sporting value: providing young people an opportunity to compete at something they love, learning life lessons along the way. Proponents arguing for such a holistic philosophy note its mutual inclusivity with world domination, citing the statistic that 93% of youth in Norway, traditionally a world winter sports power, participate in a sport.
“And they’re not there to win gold medals. They’re there because of the health values that sports give children as they’re developing as people,” argued McMurtry. “Our focus has been wrong. We’ve been from the grassroots club level trying to identify who’s going to be the next Mikaela Shiffrin. And that’s not the point of sports.”
The tenor of current and former national team athletes’ and coaches’ voices seems to suggest that a uniquely American approach — one which considers the the United States’ geographic, cultural, and socio-economic variables, factors essentially non-existent in homogeneous, ski-rich nations like Austria, Switzerland or Norway — is paramount. Creative solutions which drive down cost, provide attractive access to the sport and appropriate support throughout are needed to strengthen the pipeline. Utilizing the American blend of clubs and schools, NCAA teams and regional development squads, are key to widening the base, ensuring proper retention and development of talent, and reviving a culture of competitiveness.
“We were there, and we can do it again, but there’s got to be radical change,” McMurtry said.
Sport for all
In a call back to their plundering of the 2018 Olympics, three “architects of Norway’s sport system” shared key ideas for nationwide sport development in a February 2022 Aspen Institute article titled, “How Norway won all that gold (again),” a reference to the record 16 gold medals won by the nation’s Beijing Games athletes. As Aspen Institute editor Tom Farrey notes, “The performance burnished Norway’s reputation as having the best sport system in the world.”
“Children’s Rights in Sports” headlines the seven pillars to the country’s approach.
“Participation in sporting activities for children up to 12 years of age follows the Children’s Rights in Sports statement, which underscores the intrinsic value of playing sports and encourages experiences and skills that in turn provide the basis for a lifelong enjoyment of sports,” write the authors.
“The system as a whole is not just an elite sports system, but the whole cultural milieu is what produces Norway’s excellence at the international level,” said Jim Galanes, a four-time U.S. Olympic cross-country skier and Summit County resident.
A well-traveled World Cup veteran and former director of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic program, Galanes is well aware of the weight a nation’s sporting heritage can play in this discussion. His larger concern, however, is over perceived differences between the United States Olympic and Paralympic committees and Olympiatoppen — the organization responsible for training Norwegian elite sport — in regards to prioritizing access and enjoyment for all. He points to how Norway focuses on sport’s intrinsic value over simply winning.
“In Norway, it appears sport serves a greater purpose than elite success, World Cup wins, or Olympic medals,” Galanes said.
The Olympiatoppen endurance department’s mission statement refers to a “holistic performance development,” centered around four values: joy through mastery, community through development together, health through a holistic life and honesty through viewable attitudes.
For McMurtry, this is the crux of the conversation.
“It’s not just skiing, it’s youth sports in general,” he said. “I would say it’s a crisis and it basically comes down to cost. It has to be accessible for all and we’ve built these barriers now — not just in skiing — that are just absolutely horrendous.”
“The Norwegian model is a much more intelligent model in that rather than paying all the money, it’s just opportunity,” said Vail’s Mike Brown, who was a top-level Alpine junior racer before his 10-year U.S. Ski Team career. Brown competed in the super-G on home snow at the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships and was eventually inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 2014.
A 2015 document titled “Joy of Sport for All” lays out Norway’s “cradle-to-grave” approach, which offers access to sport for all who want it.
“At the core of all activities for this age group are our values, the rights of children in sport, the provisions on children’s sports and child safeguarding in sports,” the document states.
McMurty believes the present American generation has lost sight of sports’ holistic, transcendent value.
“I’ve been in local club programs where you’re signing your kids up and already at 10, they’re identifying kids and ‘you’re going to be in this group because we think you’ve got something special,’” he described. “They put them in this little special group — we’re going to send you to New Zealand, season’s going to cost you 100 grand. Well, we didn’t do that back when we built a team that was No. 1 in the world.”
State of Play: Children’s sports participation in America
The 2021 Aspen Institute’s State of Play give an inside look at participation data in youth sports in America.
Below are some key findings:
76.1% of children ages 6-12 reported playing a team or individual sport in 2020, up from 72.9% in 2012. 37.8% reported playing a team sport on a regular basis, down from 41.4% in 2012.
73.4% of children ages 13-17 played a team or individual sport in 2020, up from 69.1% just one year ago.
The percentage of kids ages 6-12 who engaged in no sport activity during the year fell from 16.9% in 2019 to 13.7% in 2020.
Hockey was the most expensive sport among 21 sports evaluated ($2,583 per child per year). Skiing/snowboarding was second ($2,249). Sports families spent an annual average of $693 per child, per sport.
Only 12% of parents spent no money for their children to play their sport.
Travel is the costliest feature in youth sports.
The average child today spends less than three years playing a sport, quitting by age 11 (this data was most recently available in the 2019 Project Play survey)
40% of parents with children in organized sports say their child plays year-round.
Free play, which has been demonstrated to produce higher levels of physical activity than organized sports, is declining. “According to a household survey of 22 counties in those regions, fewer than one in five youth play football near their home (Aspen Institute/Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation survey, 2017). It’s one in 10 for basketball and less than one in 20 for baseball and soccer,” reads the report.
According to Galanes, the U.S. national governing bodies tend to attempt to identify talent too early, resulting in what he calls a “money for medals” approach.
“They pick their anticipated top performers at a relatively young age and they put all their bets on those few athletes for the entirety of their careers.”
Nowhere was this more obvious than Beijing 2022 — hold that thought for part four of this series.
“Nobody has ever been able to identify a champion at 10. Not only that, that’s not the purpose of sport,” McMurtry argued.
“Building a sport system for the sole purpose of developing World Champions unnecessarily over-professionalizes the athlete experience for most participants,” stated Aldo Radamus, a former ski racer and former executive of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Radamus said there is an “unnecessary arms race” occurring at the youth level, driven by the inherent nature of skiing and parents financially equipped to exploit it.
“There’s no question — the sport is inherently expensive,” he said.
While kids lining up for a 100-meter dash all step onto the same track, in ski racing, fleet size, grind selection, and expensive fluorinated waxes (not to mention the expertise and tools required to make sense of the equipment triumvirate) are often deciding factors in outcome, particularly in cross-country skiing. Time on snow and expert private coaching at a young age also attract families wanting to jumpstart what is perhaps a more critical head start: skill acquisition. When parents — convinced their children have Olympic medals in their future — are willing to fork over whatever cost is required to give their kids the best chance to succeed, it raises the cost for everyone else, too.
To be fair, in his 2016 study on European Alpine development, Dan Leever interviewed prominent coaches and thought-leaders in the sport. One “longtime European coach familiar with the U.S. system” stated “Behind every great racer is a parent that is a little crazy.”
As part of a four-part series in Ski Racing Media on development, Radamus wrote than an accelerated professionalization in youth sports, “clearly evident in ski racing,” has contributed to declining participation because “expectations have been raised for participants to commit the time and resources required to pursue the sport at an elite level.”
“Our top clubs and academies tend to try to provide the same level of programming and support as the national team. Many of these services are non-critical for a developing athlete to fulfill his or her potential,” Radamus said.
Aldo’s 24-year-old son, River, is a member of the U.S. Ski Team who races on the World Cup circuit and finished just off the podium in fourth in giant slalom at last winter’s Beijing Olympics.
Conversing with fellow SSCV alumna Jimmy Krupka on the In Arc City podcast last month, River Radamus outlined the nature of skiing and the financial affluent crowd — willing to pay for better equipment, better coaching, and more expensive training camps — it attracts.
“I’ve seen programs like that (SSCV), the cost continues to rise year after year after year into this era where it’s unrecognizable to what I felt like I saw as a kid. There’s a lot of reasons for that,” River Radamus said. “Things like that have value, absolutely, but you see in Europe that you don’t need those things as a youth to succeed. But what that does, it slowly raised the price. It becomes an arms race.”
“The fact that some want and can pay for these services doesn’t mean they should be provided as a core part of the program, raising fees for all participants,” said Aldo Radamus.
McMurtry recalled a time where one parent paid to have Golden Peak at Vail reserved for a private session for their children and Mikaela Shiffrin. Another time, a parent paid the national team to bring their kid to a training camp in New Zealand.
“Can you imagine a parent paying the Denver Broncos so their son could go to training camp?” he joked. “That kind of thing discourages kids and families who think they can’t compete with that. But that’s what’s happened with this sport. It’s like many things in this country — it’s money, money, money-driven.”
While Aldo Radamus knows its impossible to legislate against parents hiring private coaches, purchasing equipment or paying for camps, he does believe “there can be sensible legislation outlining the structure of the pipeline so that guardrails are being provided to help families and athletes and their coaches essentially make the right decisions about how that athlete and when that athlete is ready to advance to another level and needs an additional opportunity.”
Aldo Radamus outlined several suggestions in the second part of his series, including a shift towards localizing competitions, limiting excessive prep period and competition period travel and grouping athletes intentionally.
“Racing in competitions with similarly skilled athletes promotes both enjoyment and development. Being an outlier off the back or off the front can both be detrimental.”
His son, River, expounded on the latter point with Krupka, where he mentioned a difference in how races are set up in Europe compared to the U.S.
“Races in Europe are usually much cheaper than FIS race entries in the U.S. So, the motivation for the race host is hosting a race for the right athletes. It’s not a profit-driven gambit,” he said. “The reason they host the race is for athlete development. Making sure they have opportunities for their athletes to score but also for them to grow and learn. In the U.S., the races are hosted to fund the programs that are hosting them.”
Thus, he argues, American race directors are motivated to fill all of their slots, no matter the ability range of the competitors.
“Whereas if you sit on the side of a race in Europe, if there’s a skier that clearly shouldn’t be there, the people are on the side of the hill like ‘uggh what’s he doing here,’ because it’s not the appropriate race for him,” River Radamus said to Krupka. “It’s not the appropriate place for them to develop.”
The result, according to the 2022 Olympian, are “more skill-based races.”
“Everybody whose in a race feels like, ‘OK, I’m here to push, I’ve got a chance to win or move up,’ whereas in the U.S. there’s a lot of races that kids go to because their parents think that they should for reaching a certain benchmark or their program is taking all the athletes, too, so I should tag along as well,” he told Krupka. “And kids go to out-of-region races that they don’t necessarily need to go to, pay tons of money, enter this race, and just get absolutely smoked. And then, you’re at the bottom like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.’”
It is one explanation, perhaps, of the sport’s disturbing burnout trend.
“Increases in female participation have been offset by a shrinking male population and modestly growing participation at the U14-and-younger age groups is offset by alarming attrition among U16-and-older ages,” wrote Aldo Radamus in part one of his series.
Like Galanes, McMurty, and the leaders of Olympiatoppen, Aldo Radamus has championed participation as the cornerstone to national success. He wrote in Ski Racing Media, “In the interest of creating healthy sport, we have to have an exciting, accessible and inherently rewarding activity and a system to develop the most talented and committed to be the best in the world.”
“Historically, the U.S. team has done a poor job handling the development of young athletes moving up to the U.S. team,” added John Dowling, SSCV’s mogul director, who has supplied Team USA with the lion’s share of its mogul team members over the last decade and change.
One of Dowling’s athletes, 2018 Olympian Tess Johnson, has said that in talking to friends in Alpine circles, she noticed a key difference while reflecting on their younger years.
“On a powder day or any given day, they were always training, always on Golden Peak,” she said.
“Like it was just so much training and so monotonous, especially at that age. They would rarely go freeskiing and we would go freeskiing twice a week,” she said, noting it as one reason she’s never felt burnout “on-snow.” “We’re 12 years old. I always loved and appreciated that Dowling and (Riley) Campbell made a point of making us go and freeski and ski the whole mountain and ski a few laps through the park.”
“We have a penchant in this county in many sports to try and identify talent at 14-16 years of age — too early — and I believe the track record of athletes getting washed out of the sport at these ages is pretty bad,” Galanes summarized.
River Radamus said that in Europe, “There’s more engaged athletes, athletes that last,” compared to the U.S.
“The pipeline narrows, but athletes last into FIS longer in Europe than they do in the U.S. because there’s always something to push for, there’s something to reach for and you’re engaged and you’re having fun and you’re competing against people that you feel like, ‘I put in a little extra work, I can beat this guy.’ And in the U.S., I feel like that drops off much quicker,” he told Krupka.
The Aspen Institute’s “architects” seem to address this component in the Norwegian system’s second pillar, writing, “To be the best in the world, you must train the best in the world. At the same time, the training philosophy in Norwegian sports involves taking responsibility for both the social, mental and physical development into being a top athlete. It’s about developing people!”
Judy Rabinowitz, one of the early members of the U.S. women’s cross-country team and a 1984 Olympian who now lives in Leadville, wrote to the Vail Daily in regards to the Aspen Institute’s article on the Norwegian model.
“I was also impressed by what the article described as a mission to develop athletes who are multidimensional (and joyful) citizens equipped with skills beyond sport, and by the prestige attached to coaching as evidenced by the fact that most Norwegian coaches come from “academia” and are versed in pedagogy,” she stated.
To understand why America has lagged in creating synergy between science and sporting bodies and cultivating a competent coaching culture, a trip back to college might be necessary — stay tuned for Part III: Collegiate athletics’ place in the pipeline.
But first — is the cost issue really something unique to the United States?
Check out tomorrow’s paper with Part II: Is the rising cost of skiing only an American problem?
Bolder Invitational raises awareness for prostate cancer
Dr. Michael Glode likes to say that “to some extent, with breast cancer they race for the cure, and in prostate cancer we crawl for the cure.”
For almost four decades, Glode, who joined the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards in 2010, has been at the fore of promoting prostate cancer awareness, a cause consistently in the pink ribbon shadow. On Monday, the Bolder Invitational 2022, a golf event Shaw partnered with to memorialize the life of one of Glode’s patients — longtime Vail resident Brian Philip ‘Bolder’ Lefebvre — showed that the movement might be gaining steam.
“The Bolder Invitational 2022 more than exceeded our expectations,” said Wayne Schnapp, whom, along with Brian’s son Colby, spearheaded the inaugural event.
Nine foursomes — many of which were local Vail hospitality and service industry workers as well as friends of Brian and general supporters of prostate cancer awareness — played a round of golf at Red Sky Ranch, raising money for the Shaw Cancer Center.
“Everyone had a really good time,” Colby said of the chilly but sunny day.
Colby, 33, was born and raised in Vail before earning degrees from Johnson and Wales Culinary School. He came back to the Valley, hoping to one day fulfill a shared dream with his dad of opening a restaurant together. On Nov. 11, 2012, Brian died from prostate cancer.
“Brian was just a great guy,” Glode said about his former patient.
“He was absolutely dedicated to fighting the disease. As Colby said in his remarks (at the golf tournament), his dad just kept getting handed bad cards.”
“He was always a super big part of the community,” Colby said of his dad, who was in the restaurant industry until 1996, when he left Hubcap Brewery and Kitchen so he could be at home more with his son and wife, Cindy.
“He knew everybody. Literally everybody in the town.”
Colby launched Bold Hotsauce, hoping to grow enough and eventually give back financially to prostate cancer awareness.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t really make sense living up in the mountains running a hot sauce company,” he recalled.
“With no FDA kitchens up here, I was constantly going back and forth to Denver, and so I stopped that before I ever got to the donation part or the giving back part.”
He pivoted back to opening his own place, and this fall, with the help of Dennis Foley — owner of neighbor Bart and Yeti’s and participant at Monday’s invite — he launched Alpine Pizza a few steps from the Lionshead Gondola. Over the course of working in Lionshead at El Sabor, he met Wayne Schnapp, who moved to Lionshead a couple of years ago.
“He would come in and we would talk and he seemed like a nice guy and our friendship grew in that manner,” Colby described.
“He was very supportive of me opening Alpine.”
In December, Schnapp invited Colby to a golf tournament with a bunch of the area’s hospitality workers.
“Just bartenders, people in the service industry here — and just going and having a fun day,” Colby said of the idea.
“From there, after a few discussions, it evolved into, ‘well, you know, a lot of these people aren’t given the chance to give back — because of how much they work, how tight money can be because of living costs and things like that — so, can we make this into a charity golf tournament?’”
Colby brought up prostate cancer awareness.
“It’s huge. A lot of guys get prostate cancer,” he said. They decided giving the money to Shaw, where his dad was treated, was the best course.
“If we’re going to invite people to pay for a round of golf, why don’t we make that golf worth something — to give back to the community,” Colby recalled Schnapp and him thinking.
“And that was our biggest goal.”
Schnapp worked with Shaw partnering with the center to host the event, which incorporated a spin off the Bolder Hot Sauce logo. Charlie’s T-shirts, where Brian worked the remainder of his life, provided free embroidered shirts for participants, something Colby said was “really important and cool.” Teams from Bart and Yeti’s, Shakedown, Bad Kitty Lounge and Local Joe’s helped form the foursomes.
“We could have had it bigger, but we had never done it before and we didn’t know what we were doing,” Colby laughed, noting that many called to sign up and were forced to wait until a second annual.
“Next year we’re going to make it at least 18.”
Glode, a pioneer in prostate cancer research, spoke on the need to raise awareness and Dr. Erin Schwab spent time discussing it with participants as well.
“Reconnecting with Cindy (wife) and the family was really meaningful,” Glode said.
“It was great to be able to participate in their efforts to give back and create something in the way of a community awareness project for prostate cancer, and they hope it grows and so do we.”
From the businesses which donated auction items — including Town of Vail, Grand Hyatt Vail, Charlie’s T-Shirts, Chophouse Vail, Bad Kitty Lounge, Bart and Yeti’s and Garfinkles — to the hosts at Red Sky Golf Club, it was a community event honoring a man many knew while pointing to a cause in need of increased attention.
“I want to keep growing the awareness of prostate cancer; I just don’t think men talk about it enough,” Colby said.
“There is such an unbelievable initiative with breast cancer awareness; while, men, we should be doing the same thing. I’ve talked with Dr. Glode about that a lot. If we can get people aware of when they need to get checked and going in and doing that, that’s my most important thing.”
Dr. Michael Glode shares latest advancements in prostate cancer research
Dr. Michael Glode is a medical oncology specialist for prostate and genitourinary (GU) cancers at Shaw Cancer Center. His pioneering work in the field includes being the principal investigator on the study leading to the approval of leuprolide, an injection used for treating prostate cancer as well as being principal investigator on the first nation-wide National Cancer Institute sponsored adjuvant treatment protocol for high risk prostate cancer patients following surgery.
Glode said prostate cancer has moved toward a “multi-disciplinary team approach” which includes patients, social workers, medical oncologists, urologists, radiation oncologists and more. Though Shaw Cancer Center has approached breast cancer in this way for a long time, it has only tackled prostate cancer this way in the past five years or so.
“I’ve been a part of that; very proud of what we’ve been able to put together in the way of a team approach and providing patients with the best of care and the most recent advances,” he said.
“The last decade has been really outstanding in terms of new approaches to prostate cancer,” Glode stated, noting a growth from awareness and controversies over screenings to five or six new drugs and breakthrough scanning agents.
“The molecular landscape genetically of prostate cancer has been sort of mapped out so that there are drugs that we use that previously might have only been used in other cancers,” he explained.
Prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) PET scans are “highly specific and way more sensitive than anything we had for prostate cancer before,” according to Glode.
“As a result, when we see someone whose had treatment in the past — whether that’s radiation or surgery — and their prostate-specific-antigen (PSA) is creeping up, we have a chance to maybe see if they only have a few areas, a few spots of metastases and go after those with either surgery or radiation and salvage people for a cure,”
He continued, saying, “And that really changed the landscape a lot for patients with a rising PSA 5-10 years after they were originally treated. There’s been a lot going on.”
Currently, a PSMA PET scans are only available in Denver, but Glode is pushing for a local arrival eventually.
“I think having that specialized knowledge about what’s going on nationally has been really helpful,” he said.
“And of course we’ve been cheerleaders for getting that kind of scan available at the Shaw and we’re still working on that.”
2022 Eagle River Water and Sanitation District Vail Whitewater Series race results
Athletes placed in overall series ranking with TT time
1. Jennifer Hodgkiss/Kerri Karcz – 0:01:32
2. Charlotte Hanks/Taylor Thorshov – 0:01:51
3. Caitlyn Ngam/Kim Carson – 0:01:58
Male & Co-ed Raft
1.Matt Norfleet/Rob Prechtl – 0:01:22
2. Chris Schultz/Tyler Lombardi – 0:01:24
3. Wesley Zittel/Garret Sapyta – 0:01:31
4. John Anacito/Cole Bangert – 0:01:18
5. Scott Simpkins/Mallane Dressel – 0:01:28
6. Brian Alt/Grant Mcormick – 0:01:29
7. Jason Connolly/Chris Clark – 0:01:33
8. Chris Schmidt/Joe Glassman – 0:01:34
9. Chris Johnson Sup/Ace Ace – 0:01:36
10. Sarah Campbell/Peter Gajewski – 0:01:43
11. Dylan Droxler/Cody Birk – 0:01:48
1. Jennifer Hodgkiss – 0:08:07
2. Bella Borski – 0:01:39 penalty – 0:00:15
1. Cashel Wiens – 0:01:33
2. Sawyer Blair – 0:01:22
3. Colin Glackin – 0:01:24
1. Rob Prechtl – 0:01:16
2. Alan Braunholtz – 0:01:22
3. John Anacito – 0:01:19
4. Cole Bangert – 0:01:17
5. Parker Stacks – 0:01:18
6. Joe Giglio – 0:01:19
7. Brian Alt – 0:01:21
8. Liam Mattison – 0:01:24
9. Colin Mccabe – 0:01:25
10. Chris Johnson-Lakota – 0:01:29
11. Garrett Sapyta – 0:01:31
12. Jason Connolly – 0:01:44
13. Matt Gianetti -dnf
1. Trinity Wall – 0:01:25
2. Kerri Karcz – 0:01:39
3. Jennifer Hodgkiss – 0:01:29
4. Justine St John – 0:01:47
5. Mallane Dressel – 0:01:50
6. Jamie Blume – 0:02:09
1. Scott Simpkins – 0:01:17
2. Rob Prechtl – 0:01:24
3. Jim Callen – 0:01:24
4. Ferguson St John – 0:01:24
5. Michael Chebatoris – 0:01:40
6. Chris Johnson-sol – 0:01:45
7. Ace Ace – 0:02:16
In ‘Andrew Petty is dying,’ a Steamboat-based podcaster examines death of climber Marc-André Leclerc
Canadian Alpinist Marc-André Leclerc completed some of the world’s most difficult summits in his short life, including Torre Egger in Patagonia and the Emperor Face of Mount Robson in British Columbia. In the 2021 documentary “The Alpinist,” viewers watch Leclerc, a tiny speck in an enormous landscape, accomplish feats other climbers only dream of — and he does this while free soloing, arguably the world’s most extreme sport. A free soloist climbs rock or ice faces on mountains with no harnesses or protection — nothing but skill and willpower keeping one from falling into the abyss.
Leclerc had achieved more than most free soloists when his life was cut short during a climb in 2018. He was 25. “The Alpinist” chronicles both his achievements and untimely death.
“The Alpinist is … not a climbing movie, merely,” said Andrew Petty, a life coach and podcaster based in Steamboat Springs. “It’s a story about how writing a great story with our life can change other people’s lives.”
Petty’s podcast, “Andrew Petty is Dying,” is inspirational rather than morbid.
“The podcast is (about) confronting our mortality so we can use it to motivate us to live as well as we can,” Petty said.
On Mother’s Day, Petty talked with Leclerc’s mother, Michelle Kuipers, about her son’s childhood, climbing accomplishments and how she raised such an adventurous individual.
Kuipers, who was featured in “The Alpinist,” was Leclerc’s first and most pivotal influence. Kuipers inspired in her son a love for adventure and nurtured his free spirit rather than trying to rein it in.
“I used to say he arrived on this planet enraged to be in the body of a helpless infant. I knew that we would both be happier as soon as he could start moving and he could express his avid mental activity through physical activity,” Kuipers said during her interview with Petty.
The overly active child, branded a misfit by a school system that tried to keep him contained, eventually found a sense of belonging in the mountains.
“Marc-André lived the life he was meant to live,” Kuipers said, speaking about how she responded to those who told her climbing was too dangerous. “It’s not so much that I encouraged him to climb, it was more like I allowed him to pursue something that he loved. … To hold somebody else back to give myself a little bit more internal peace as a parent, I think, is an incredibly selfish thing to do.”
Petty and Kuipers discussed how parents can let their children learn from their mistakes.
“You don’t want them to crash and burn per se, but sometimes a little bit of crashing and burning is OK, because that’s how they learn,” Kuipers said. “The reality is as soon as you bring a child into the world, you’re going through the process of letting them go. That’s the hardest thing a person will ever do.”
Petty added that even adults can be crippled by the idea they might “crash and burn,“ explaining that some people never pursue their passion because they fear failure.
“When you’re starting out doing something, … it takes courage and humility to be willing to make mistakes in front of the world,” Petty said.
Leclerc embodied the definitions of courage and humility; at a young age he learned to face his fears. “The first time Marc-André went on a climbing wall when he was 6 years old, he cried. He was scared,” Kuipers told Petty. “But at the same time, he had this incredible desire to live fully. He would do things over and over again, that he wanted to achieve. He was willing to invest the time and effort — essentially in blood, sweat and tears.”
By the time he was 15, Leclerc was leading climbing expeditions that included adults.
“Those climbs in the Stanley Headwall or Mount Robson or Torre Egger were sort of the grand finale of thousands of climbs that came before, of the investment of hours and hours of practice,” Kuipers said.
In the episode, listeners also got an inside glimpse of Leclerc’s life philosophy, which they can borrow for their own life. One of Leclerc’s philosophies is to appreciate every moment of life fully, whether big or small, since you only experience something for the first time once.
“A huge thing about living like Marc-André is, don’t be living without living,” Kuipers said. “Sitting on your phone, scanning social media, doing your work half-hearted, going through the motions. And then looking back on your week and not being able to remember anything … that stood out to you as meaningful. Living like Marc-André is to step out of that.”
Leclerc made every moment count in the time he had on Earth. He left a legacy in the hearts of many people, from his family to his climbing partners to those who merely watched his ascents from afar. Petty concluded his interview with a dedication to Kuipers.
“There’s no Marc-André, there’s no film called ‘The Alpinist’ and no life-changing legacy without all of the courage, wisdom and love you invested in Marc-André,” Petty said.
Only a few humans out of millions will master free solo climbing. But even if person’s calling is tamer than Leclerc’s, they can still embody his spirit in whatever they do.
“Marc-André lived in a manner that is very similar to how I hope to help others live. His story was significant to me because it demonstrated the value of fulfilling our true calling to the best of our ability,” Petty told Sky-Hi News. “He was just setting out to be the best alpinist he could be and have amazing experiences in wild places. He couldn’t have known the benefits … to the world would be this beautiful story that inspires people.”
Many more people will be inspired by Petty’s interview with Kuipers. Petty added that listeners should take that emotion one step further.
“Inspiration is great, but if it doesn’t have the opportunity to create change, it just comes and goes,” Petty said. “I’m hoping that with this episode, people will have important new insights for themselves, be willing to take action on those insights, and it will produce some transformation in their lives.”
“Andrew Petty is a Dying” is a production of The Graveyard Group. There are currently 59 episodes in the podcast, and new episodes typically air every two weeks. Episodes are available now on Petty’s website or any podcast platform. In addition to his podcast, Petty also hosts The Graveyard Group, a motivational group where peers encourage each other to work through issues, and offers one-on-one life coaching, both in person and virtually.
Skieologians: Me n’ Neely
I checked my watch, then glanced back at the slowly congregating orange mob of tearful teenagers. As Vail Mountain Schools girls soccer members gathered for a final huddle, processing their season-ending playoff loss, I pondered two starkly contrasting thoughts. The journalist in me impatiently desired to quickly nab my necessary quotes so I could punch up the story before the approaching nightly deadline. Concurrently, the moment evoked the memory of my own interscholastic finality, albeit 12 years prior, with surprising clarity. I watched as coach Bob Bandoni had one more moment with his senior-laden team.
Bodies trembled and noses sniffled. I felt absorbed in the aura of some unmade movie’s grand crescendo, half-expecting an orchestra to fade us away with tranquility. My daydream snapped back to a harsh reality as the huddle broke and I watched players turn and walk away to parents, siblings, a change of clothes and a ride home.
Just like that.
The world was moving on — not serenely dissolving into life’s next transition — and so were they. Just then I realized I was about the same age as Neely Crenshaw.
American novelist John Grisham is more known for his legal thrillers — “The Firm,” “The Pelican Brief” and “The Rainmaker” — major grossing movies and part of 28 consecutive No. 1 fiction bestsellers. Nestled in his canon is a tale titled “Bleachers,” a 160-page pamphlet about the small town of Messina and their high school coach, Eddie Rake.
Though reciting his resume was a daily ritual for citizens at the local mom-and-pop cafe (418 wins, 62 losses, 13 state titles, and a seven-year undefeated streak), Rake was simultaneously loved and reviled by his players, the greatest of which was Neely Crenshaw. As the 33-year-old protagonist struggled to cope with his ephemeral ‘glory days,’ I was reminded once again of the nature of prep sports.
With their coach waiting to die from cancer, Crenshaw, along with hundreds of former players across three decades, reconvened throughout the novel on the school bleachers. Memories and lessons were shared. The process of reliving his high school career, which ended in the most dramatic of ways (I won’t give everything away), was paradoxically painful and introspectively reinvigorating: Crenshaw wished he had never seen a football but also longed for the days when he was everyone’s hero.
My number was never retired, but an obvious resonance kept my bedside light on past midnight as I read to the end. I connected with the tough coach and his old-school methods of instilling bravery, resilience and work ethic. I saw myself in the genesis of every rural kid’s sports journey — sandlot games and backyard drills — the countless stories and images of times with your teammates, and the swift flood of memories from walking by your old stomping grounds.
I’ve spoken with many world-class athletes and coaches over the past month about the “increased professionalization” of youth sports. In the sports Vail is known for, there is no turning back from this reality, so it seems.
Every day, highly-prized kids transfer, graduate early, and, figuring they hold all of the cards, shun the idea of any possible benefit or merit to parental or coaching authority. Looking to capitalize on themselves, they selfishly search for “the best situation” for themselves, and in doing so generally fail to savor high school for what it is: The one time you go from kindergartners learning how to read to seniors learning to play “for the name on the front of the jersey” — all with the same group of assigned childhood friends.
You didn’t choose the kid you met on the swingset, the person who always had great halloween costumes, the boy with the curly hair or the girl next door. Part of this bond’s mystery exists within the starting guard’s heroic halftime speech in the state final, sure, but most of it was forged back in third grade when — and no one saw this — he stood up to the class bully on your behalf, … or he spilled chocolate milk on his pants at lunch and earned a lifelong nickname for doing so.
Part of me is saddened to watch soccer, basketball, football, etc., increasingly require a year-long commitment to traveling tournaments and expensive private coaches instead of relying on persistent individual boys and girls independently honing their abilities in their own backyards and driveways. While the former might increase our Olympic standing, it’s the latter, in my belief, that leads to members of society who understand the meaning of a job well-done, who know how to work through adversity, believe in themselves and lead strong families. What does our country need more of today?
Aside from all of that, the poignant realization that sank into my gut as the VMS huddle broke up was this: Prep sports is fleeting … for everyone.
The best thing that could have ever happened to me, for all of the sacrifice and sheer time I gave to basketball from the moment I could walk until I graduated, was having my senior-year team finish .500 and lose in the first round of the section playoffs (which every team automatically makes).
Sitting on the bench, watching the clock tick away, I thought about all of those early summer mornings and late nights in my front yard. I remembered that four-hour day circling the cul-de-sac as a 5-year-old, refusing to come inside until I could dribble between my legs. Washing my blackened fingertips became a nightly occurrence. I remembered the cold middle school March afternoon when I sunk 106 consecutive free throws, the result of a monastic shooting ritual forced on me by my shortness and slowness. All those bus rides with friends, training journals and goals, pregame nerves and timeout goosebumps with the game on the line … all of that … for this?
One couldn’t construct a more anonymous exit for our five seniors who survived the harsh reality of necessary cuts in a school with 1,700 students. Then again, even those who finish 27-0 and go out on top eventually think the same thought I did when I removed my sweaty jersey for the last time and gave it back to our team manager that dreadful day:
“Well, there’s that.”
You change into civilian clothes, get off the bus and reenter society like everybody else. It’s at that moment that you realize sports only ever had one purpose. If you don’t know it, I probably couldn’t preach it into you (something about transcendent values, lifelong skills and meaningful relationships), but as the resident Skieologian, it’s probably my duty to pray that somewhere out there, coaches, athletes and parents are doing what they can to preserve it.
Here’s to another great year of high school sports.