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Vagneur: Gridiron serves past and present

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

I arrived a couple of minutes late, but a seat was found for me in the family section (meaning my ex-, her husband, my daughter and my granddaughter, Charli) — a not unusual accommodation at all, as family is important, and it’s usually peaceful.

I had barely gotten my legs stretched out when a flash of red and black burst through the line and went for a good run of 8 or 10 yards. Against Carbondale. Ha. My old nemesis, the Rams. Run right through ’em, Cash.

Aspen Skiers, the mighty, mighty Skiers, been called that since 1945, and it makes sense, what with Aspen Mountain and world-class skiing out the back door. (and Thunderbowl and Aspen Highlands out the new school campus back door.) We got dibs on the good colors, too, if you ask me. As flashy as school colors can be, red and black seems a bit subdued and well-thought-out, camouflaging a fire that burns within.



We played at Wagner Park in my football days, on grass. Most of the town came out. No lights, lime for yard markers, games on Saturday afternoons. One year, it snowed about 8 inches the night before a game. The team was out early with the cheerleaders and other interested kids, rolling the snow off the field in huge snowballs, which stayed on the sidelines for several days.

Prior to that, during my junior-high sojourn, there was a snowstorm of different content and instead of clearing the field, the yard markers were laid down with coal dust. My only real memory of that game is Tuffy Marshall making a one-handed catch in the end zone.




It’s hard to believe my grandson is playing home games on artificial turf — not a lot of kids from small schools (even large ones) have that opportunity. He’s 8, and whether the field is natural grass or artificial likely doesn’t make any difference to him. The importance, even at that young age, is how many carries, how many yards, how many tackles and wow, an interception, if possible. Did you see that block?

There aren’t a lot of kids playing at his age, so many of them go both ways, offense and defense. They keep score on the big board.  

These kids have a lot of football moxie and have learned more than a few good moves by messing around among themselves and watching games on television. The coaches are excellent, retired football players themselves, and provide invaluable tips and instruction. The youth game has come a long way.

Back in the ’60s, with the exception of the ski team and basketball, we didn’t have much in the way of organized sports, including football, before high school. We played six or seven games, which seemed awfully short with 12-minute quarters.

Today, these kids start at 8 years old with 10-minute quarters and have 10 games. By the time they’re in high school, they’ll be sophisticated players, seasoned with the ins and outs of the game as well as incalculable benefits from playing a team sport.  

Organized athletic endeavors like this don’t come off without a huge amount of support and volunteer time from a cadre of people in the background. The Aspen team belongs to the Mountain West Youth Football League, founded in 1995, which includes teams from Aspen to Parachute, and north to Meeker. It’s an inclusive group that mostly keeps it all in the valley.

Coaches, critical to the game, not only volunteer their time but are required to take a certification course, are schooled in concussion protocols and follow rules as to the amount of concussive contact that happens in practice. Sideline crews are volunteers, and someone has to operate the scoreboard. Parents provide drinks, snacks, moral support, a cheering section and transportation.

Ron Morehead, a well-known local athlete and Four-Mountain Sports manager, is the official town coordinator for the Aspen team or, as he bills himself, the Glorified Equipment Manager. He makes sure each kid is provided with proper, well-fitting equipment (including helmets) and makes safety a priority. He works closely with the Aspen Elks Club (BPOE #224), the primary sponsor of the Aspen team for the past 25 years. He has been involved a like number of years, and his enthusiasm shines through.  

Somewhere within the hallowed halls of Aspen High, my name is inscribed on a football trophy. Having a sentimental attitude toward the past and an enthusiastic view toward the future, there may come a day when that trophy and one for my grandson rest side by side on display. He can point them out to his grandchildren.

Tony Vagneur and John Boudreau have started the Grampa’s Club. Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.