Delay of game: Roaring Fork HS drops varsity football program for 2 years
Following an 0-9 football season in Carbondale that saw a significant decline in students participating, Roaring Fork High School will drop varsity football for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, focusing solely on junior varsity competition for the next two years in hopes of rebuilding the program.
One week after the tough season came to a close, Athletic Director Jade Bath consulted with the Colorado High School Activities Association, former Roaring Fork Athletic Director Marty Nieslanik and Rams head coach Matt Phelan about the decision.
“We all decided that what’s best for the program and what’s best for the kids moving forward is to compete at JV,” Bath told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on Saturday. “We’re looking at just three juniors coming back for next season, so numbers are low. We’re going to be pushing it for numbers just to even have a JV team, honestly. So that way we’re not having freshmen and sophomores playing in varsity games against juniors and seniors every week who have been playing varsity football for four years. We really decided that if we want to build this program back up to where it used to be in the early 2000s, we’re going to have to take a step back.”
During the 2017 season, the Rams dressed just eight seniors and a number of underclassmen under first-year head coach Phelan, leading to just 18 total points scored by the Rams. In fact, the Rams’ varsity program had just two coaches on the year, which made it that much more difficult to give each player on the roster ample developmental 1-on-1 time in practice, let alone run a team on Friday nights.
In the nine games this season, Roaring Fork gave up an average of 53.3 points per game while scoring just an average of 2.0 points per game, getting shut out in six of the nine games this fall.
“I’m tremendously proud of the kids for showing up every day,” Phelean said. “It’s one of the reasons I took the job even though I kind of knew how it was going to go because football teaches those kind of things in a way that no other sport really can. Having to show up, having to work hard and having to get beat up a little bit physically and emotionally, that’s part of football in a way that it’s not in other sports. Being able to get through that and being able to survive a season, that’s a tremendous life lesson that they were able to acquire through this.”
Just one year after playing for the 2A WSL league championship under then-head coach Jeff Kelley, the Rams were hit hard by graduation, which led to the major decline in turnout for football in Carbondale.
As the numbers in football declined, Roaring Fork saw the participation in soccer increase under current head coach Nick Forbes. The Rams made a run to the Great Eight this season while rostering 21 players this fall, which led to increased excitement about the soccer program in Carbondale.
Bath cited the recent improvement of the Basalt and Aspen football programs in recent years as examples of how the Rams hope to rebuild the football program in Carbondale, starting from the ground up, referring to the pee-wee programs in Carbondale.
“Building a program doesn’t start at high school,” Bath said. “We don’t have the pee-wee programs available to us in the area like we have had in the past. Even our middle school program is struggling to pull in numbers for football. When you look back on the programs in the early 2000s and even all the way back to the state championship teams, it all started at pee-wee. And now with more sports coming into the valley, and kids and parents concerned with concussions, you don’t see the turnout for football. Obviously, it’s like that across the nation, but I think we’re feeling it right here in Carbondale. It’s going to take a while to rebuild.”
Phelan is expected to stay on as the head coach of the program for the next two years as the Rams must play at the JV level for the next two seasons due to the schedule cycling process that rotates every two years. A replacement for Roaring Fork in the 2A WSL will be voted on in the Dec. 7 football committee meeting under CHSAA’s direction.
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