Will high school football return to Aspen?
The Aspen Middle School football program officially wrapped up its 1999 campaign last week with a post-season banquet at the Elks Club in Aspen, but the real work has just begun.
With roughly a dozen ninth-graders having played at the Middle School last year and another dozen talented eighth-graders ready to join them at Aspen High School next year, the push is on to get a junior varsity football program instituted at AHS for the 2000 season.
“A lot of people out there are interested in having football,” said Dave Connaroe, the former athletic director at AHS and a coach with Aspen’s youth football program.
Connaroe was around for the demise of football at the high school in 1994. An unpopular coaching change and the rise in popularity of hockey combined to push kids away from the sport, leaving Aspen with a mere 15 players on the roster for two years. After a 25-game losing streak that ended in 1994, the program was cancelled.
But there are still a number of dads in town who played football in their AHS days, according to Dexter Garner, a coach with the youth program and one of the aforementioned dads, and they were reluctant to let the sport disappear entirely.
So, with the help of a dedicated group of coaches and volunteers, football is slowing making a comeback.
John Dodds and Russell Loucks have coached the eighth- and seventh-graders at Aspen Middle School for the last three years. In year one, understandably, the inexperienced teams met with little success, but in year two, with a season of play under their belts, the eighth-graders posted a 2-2 record.
And the seventh-graders, despite having just 13 boys on the roster, went 2-1-1.
This year, those same seventh-graders, having moved on to eighth grade, rolled to a 3-1 record and began to put Aspen football back on the map.
“They played really well,” said Garner. “There’s some really good players.”
Connaroe now estimates that there are about 30 kids very interested in playing JV football at AHS next year, and that number, he feels, is enough to get things started.
“Carbondale’s had a resurgence of popularity in football,” he said. “And Basalt [which this year fielded a JV program] is not too far away. Our numbers are as good.”
But to get the effort off the ground is going to take some money. When Connaroe was the AD at Aspen High, the yearly football budget ranged between $12-13,000. With prices having gone up in the intervening five years, a few phone calls brought Connaroe to the realization that 30 sets of uniforms and equipment could cost as much as $15,000.
Those expenses, when combined with travel and other costs, mean that the program will need to generate roughly $45,000 on its own to survive for the first two years.
“We’re hoping the school district can take it on after that,” said Connaroe.
While raising that much money may seem daunting, Connaroe said, “It’s not much of an issue if the community wants it. The biggest problem is getting the kids to play.”
Connaroe hopes to get school board approval for the program in the near future and, if the board comes through, hopes to start ordering equipment by Christmas.
“By mid-November we’ll start making a concerted fund-raising effort,” he said, and then he asessed the program’s chances for success.
“The youth teams have been successful. We’re competitive at the middle school level. I think we’ll be competitive at the high school level.”
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