Carol Sams is heading west.
Sams, the longtime athletic director at Aspen High School, has accepted the position as athletic director and activities director at Grand Junction High School.
“It was quite a decision, a difficult decision,” Sams said. “I was ready for a new challenge. It’s really hard to go, but I felt like this was the right time.”
Sams, who served as the Aspen High School athletic director for 16 years, said she had considered retiring after the 2013-14 school year.
“I had talked about retiring,” Sams said. “But I’m not ready to retire. So I said, ‘What the heck? Let’s give this a shot.’”
School District 51, which includes Grand Junction, Grand Junction Central, Fruita Monument and Palisade, responded with the offer that lured Sams from Aspen to Grand Junction.
“It is a bigger school, and it’s going to be more difficult to get to know the kids,” Sams said of 1,700-student Grand Junction High School, more than twice the size of Aspen High School. She added that she also will be involved with students in activities as well as athletics. That’s band, speech and debate, dance team, Knowledge Bowl, etc.
“They do things differently there with a district (athletic director),” Sams said.
In fact, former Basalt athletic director and coach Paul Cain is the District 51 athletic director. He and Sams were athletic directors at Basalt and Aspen high schools, respectively, at the same time. Cain, who is in the Colorado Mesa University Athletic Hall of Fame, was a prep standout at Basalt.
“So, things are coming full circle,” Sams said, adding that she is excited about working with fellow athletic directors at Central, Fruita Monument and Palisade.
“I think it will be a good fit,” said Sams, who came west to Aspen in 1989 as a middle school and high school physical education and health teacher. She also served as an assistant basketball coach, assistant girls volleyball coach and head track coach when she first started in Aspen.
A collegiate standout in basketball and softball at North Dakota State University, Sams was a multisport all-stater in high school, also in North Dakota. She played basketball and softball for three years at North Dakota State. She also played volleyball for two years in college.
“I’ve got to thank the whole community for their support,” Sams said. “I appreciate everything they’ve done for me. The parents, the community have been awesome.”
She said that she will handle the same sports she did at Aspen High School.
But, she said, there will be more full teams to support — freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams.
“I don’t know too many of the coaches (at Grand Junction),” Sams said. “So that will be job No. 1 — meeting with the coaches.”
The primary scheduling for varsity game facilities are handled through the District 51 athletic department.
Sams will manage the Grand Junction practice facilities as well as the Grand Junction High School gymnasiums.
“That will be different as well as transportation scheduling,” Sams said.
She oversaw major growth and development at Aspen High School during her time there.
“The new (high school) building, the building of the new gym and the (playing) fields are the big things,” Sams said as she looked back.
Aspen High School’s new building included a new, full-length gymnasium to take over for the smaller Aspen Skierdome.
The field turf playing fields at the high school/middle school and at Iselin Field also were built and developed during Sams’ time at Aspen High.
She said it’s been fun recalling all of the coaches who worked at Aspen High School over the past 25 years.
“That’s quite a list. Some coached awhile, some for just a year,” Sams said.
Her favorite memories, she said, are of the Aspen High School student-athletes practicing and competing. And growing up.
“One of my favorite memories would be the boys hockey team winning state (in 2007),” said Sams, who supervised the addition of hockey, girls lacrosse, boys lacrosse, girls swimming and skiing as varsity CHSAA-sanctioned sports at Aspen High School.
She also worked with several club sports that surfaced at Aspen High, including the recently formed mountain-bike team.
During her tenure at Aspen High School, Sams also was pressed into service as assistant principal for one year.
“For me, it’s always been about the kids,” Sams said as she prepped for her move west. “It’s about the kids.”
Sams, an avid cyclist, is the fourth long-term Aspen High School athletic department staff member to step down this year.
Football coach Mike Sirko wrapped up his seven-year run as the head coach after the team reached the state playoffs for the seventh consecutive year. Sirko has accepted the head coaching job at Hotchkiss High School, where he first coached more than 30 years ago.
Aspen boys basketball coach Steve Ketchum resigned after last playoff season. Ketchum had coached at Aspen High School for 16 years — all working under Sams.
Longtime hockey coach Al Butler, part of the 2007 state championship for Aspen High School, also stepped down this year.
“Great memories and great friendships — that’s what I’ll take with me,” Sams said.