Colorado’s new high school league aims to create life long climbers

League coaches, creators gather at Eagle Climbing + Fitness

Ben Rathbun discusses competition route setting Saturday with a group of American Scholastic Climbing League staffers and coaches who visited Eagle from areas around the state to prepare for the upcoming high school climbing season in Colorado.
John LaConte |

EAGLE — More than 100 cumulative years of coaching experience came together at Eagle Climbing + Fitness on Saturday to prepare for the upcoming American Scholastic Climbing League season in Colorado.

The annual coaches clinic predates the league itself, as competitive climbing in one form or another has been present in Colorado for decades, and the clinic has helped set the stage for the upcoming season.

The league was created in 2018 as a spinoff of the Colorado High School Climbing League, which was established in 2008 as a spinoff of an organized climbing effort started in the early ’90s.

Attending the clinic on Saturday, Colorado Rocky Mountain School coach Dave Meyer thought back to those days.

“It started with Montrose High School and Gunnison High School: Both those schools had climbing programs, and they would bring their kids together to climb together,” Meyer said.

Support Local Journalism

‘Not about winning’

Now serving hundreds of kids across Colorado, the American Scholastic Climbing League hopes to create a model that can be emulated all over the country.

But first, it stresses a clearly defined set of goals, most of which minimize the competitive aspect of the sport while emphasizing “community, perseverance, trust, and support,” according to the league’s philosophy statement. “The League is not about winning or preparing individual students for the Olympics.”

For that, climbers have USA Climbing, the national governing body of the sport of competitive climbing. Making the high school league significantly different than the USA Climbing circuit was important to organizers.

“The focus is on getting all the kids together who are climbers in a really positive, supportive, connected atmosphere,” Meyer said. “Because if it’s only about the individual and beating people, they can do that with USA Climbing.”

Logical location

Local climbing coach Larry Moore, who runs Eagle Climbing + Fitness, has been coaching at the USA Climbing level for years but is new to the American Scholastic Climbing League. Embracing the group’s mission, Moore offered to host the state championship this season.

“One of my main goals was to get the scheduling to be different enough from USA Climbing that kids could participate in both,” Moore said.

When it was decided that Eagle Climbing + Fitness would host the state championship in February, the new gym also became a logical location for the coaches clinic.

The American Scholastic Climbing League season runs from September to February. League executive director Theresa Morris said having all 16 high school coaches from around the state in Eagle on Saturday would allow them to see the venue where state championships will take place. Eagle Climbing + Fitness has been open for about 10 months.

“We’re getting coaching information and helpful hints, but also looking at the site,” she said.

The clinic is an important setup session for the upcoming season, Morris said.

“By being face to face and in person, conversations are more efficient, you get more done, I can catch everyone up to speed — it’s more productive, more beneficial all around,” Morris said.

Scott Dodd and Ben Rathbun instructed the coaches on competition route setting, Dr. Mark Pitcher discussed injury awareness and prevention, Moore and Lucie Hanes discussed competition training and competition strategy, and John Mark Seelig went over strength training and nutrition.

“Our goals are to get the coaches and the adult staff more training in climbing with youth, dealing with youth climbers and making sure they having an enjoyable and inclusive and safe experience,” Morris said. “So they want to climb throughout their whole life.”

Support Local Journalism