As one football season approaches its finish, another was shown the starting line.
The Colorado High School Activities Association on Friday announced the leagues and schedules for all the teams that opted to play in the spring, or Season C, a group that includes both Aspen and Basalt high schools.
“For the kids to actually see a schedule and know when it’s coming, I just think it makes it more real,” BHS football coach Carl Frerichs said. “And it really is coming. Now we are getting pretty close to when it’s really going to start happening.”
Along with boys soccer and girls volleyball, both traditionally fall sports, football had originally been pushed back to the spring because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. But after even more pushback from parents, coaches and players alike, CHSAA ultimately gave football teams and districts the option to choose between the fall (Season A) or the spring, with the vast majority of the teams in the state opting to play this fall.
Among the 54-team minority to choose the spring were Aspen and Basalt, as well as Roaring Fork and Glenwood Springs. With so few teams playing in Season C, CHSAA was forced to shuffle the leagues and even classifications around a bit to make things work in an abbreviated seven-week season.
“The steps are in place now for a spring football season,” Aspen football coach Travis Benson said. “I would say the interesting part is you kind of have mixes of Western Slope 2A and 3A. All these teams have been in the same conference at one point or the other.”
At least for this upcoming spring season, both Aspen and Basalt will play in Class 3A, a step up from 2A, where they have traditionally played in recent years. The 3A classification will include 16 teams, split into two eight-team leagues, named East and West. The 3A East includes Faith Christian, The Classical Academy, Kent Denver, Sand Creek, Littleton, Denver West, Northfield and The Academy.
The 3A West includes Aspen, Basalt, Rifle, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Coal Ridge, Montezuma-Cortez and Salida. Roaring Fork will play in the 12-team 2A classification in the spring in a division that includes St. Mary’s, Buena Vista, Ellicott, Grand Valley and Manitou Springs.
CHSAA maintained that the alignments and schedules are subject to change should teams decide to opt out of the spring.
“Our bracket is extremely strong, which I really am excited for the kids and the coaches to be able to go up against,” Frerichs said. “To win a state championship with these teams that are in it, you are really winning a state championship. We are not going to have a ton of teams, but I think the competition level is as high as the fall.”
The 2A Western Slope League has arguably been the best league in the state the past few years, highlighted by strong runs from Basalt, Delta and Rifle. Only last season, No. 9 seed Basalt knocked off No. 1 seed Rifle in the state quarterfinals before losing to No. 4 seed Delta in the semifinals. Delta then lost to No. 2 seed Sterling in the 2A state championship game.
Delta and Moffat County — who were part of last year’s 2A WSL along with Aspen, Basalt, Rifle and Coal Ridge — opted to play football this fall and won’t be part of the equation come spring.
Even so, the new 3A set to play this spring is loaded with traditional football powers and both Benson and Frerichs agree it more than makes up for the classification’s lack of numbers.
“It was tough to know, Season A, Season C, what the right choice was,” Frerichs said. “But I did tell the kids there are a lot of the best programs all playing in the 3A league right now … you got half the best teams in the state of Colorado in 2A in this 3A bracket.”
Football teams competing in Season C can start practice on Feb. 25, with the first week of competition getting underway March 11. Teams will play through a six-game slate with the top eight teams per classification making the playoffs. Teams that don’t make the postseason will be allowed to play a seventh game after the regular season.
The state championship games are scheduled for May 7 and 8 at CSU Pueblo. CHSAA is naming separate state champions for both the fall and spring seasons.
“I’m very pleased with the announcement and super pleased, from the looks of our schedule, on travel,” Benson said. “Late February, early March will present its own challenges, but nothing different than if you are playing football late November and you are on a championship run.”
Aspen’s schedule includes a season opener at Glenwood Springs before a trip to Rifle in Week 2. Then the Skiers will have three straight home games against Montezuma-Cortez, Steamboat Springs and Basalt before closing out the regular season at Coal Ridge.
Basalt will open its season at home against Salida in Week 1 before traveling to Steamboat Springs in Week 2. The Longhorns then have back-to-back home games against Rifle and Glenwood Springs before traveling to Aspen in Week 5. BHS concludes its regular season with a road trip to Montezuma-Cortez in Week 6.
Exact dates and times have not been established. Frerichs did say he hopes to see Friday games played earlier in the day, if not moved to Saturday afternoons, to avoid the extreme cold temperatures that come after sunset that time of year.
“These kids don’t want to play six straight in 10-degree weather,” Frerichs said. “I really think early in the season we are going to need to play earlier games.”
Along with spring football, Season C will include boys soccer and volleyball. Season B, which starts practice on Jan. 4, includes the traditional winter sports of basketball, ice hockey, skiing, girls swimming, wrestling and competitive spirit. Season D, which starts practice April 26, is the traditional spring sports lineup of lacrosse, girls soccer, baseball, girls golf, girls tennis, and track and field.
Season A, which has wrapped up outside of the fall football season, included cross country, boys golf, softball and boys tennis.
For the spring football teams, it’s been hit and miss in terms of getting to train because of COVID-19 restrictions. They were able to weight train outside during the late summer months and were eventually able to do some drills with a football, although in an extremely limited fashion.
Still, after the entire spring season was canceled earlier this year when the pandemic first broke out, any time spent together is time well spent.
“It’s pretty amazing to see them kind of brighten up when they get outside and do it safely within their peer group,” Benson said of the players getting to train. “It’s always rejuvenating to be able to hang out with kids and be outside and do something different than a 9-to-5 job.”