In coach Sirko Aspen trusts
Boy, is my face red.In February, I wrote that legendary football coach Tom Osborne would not win five games in Aspen. Well, maybe the good Senator couldn’t, but Mike Sirko sure can.The guy is the human Heimlich maneuver. Resuscitating high school football programs has been his M.O. – and business is good. His track record, one that spans more than three decades and eight grateful programs, would make even the most accomplished sideline gurus envious. I thought Aspen would be Sirko’s stiffest test yet. I thought sparse talent here would make the coach long for 5A.I underestimated him. I underestimated the kids. It won’t happen again.This team has made even the most hardened skeptic a believer. What sparked such a drastic change? It was Friday’s late field goal to beat then No. 4 Olathe, 17-14. I was shocked. So, too, was Pirates coach Ryan Corn, who twice refused requests for comment. I’m sure he wasn’t alone – 2A coaches across Colorado saw the Skiers crack the top 10 in this week’s Rocky Mountain News rankings. Talk of a home playoff game was even being bandied about at Tuesday’s soccer game.No, the thin air isn’t making you light-headed and delusional. This is for real.Aspen won nine games in its previous five seasons. The current 2A Western Slope front-runners could win as many as eight before postseason play commences. The Skiers have kept it simple, riding the legs and moxie of bruising backs Tucker Eason and Beau Seguin and a stout defense to an unblemished 4-0 conference record. They travel to Hotchkiss tonight for a game against a school that has experienced one of Sirko’s transformations firsthand. Sirko inherited a Bulldogs team in 1979 in the midst of a 38-game losing streak; he helped Hotchkiss win nine games and reach the state quarterfinals in his first year, and the semifinals in his second. An Aspen victory would double its win total from last season, which was the team’s most successful campaign to date since the program was re-established in 2002. Things sure have changed in the last year. Not long ago, Sirko was deemed a pariah by some, a savior by others, and was the eye of public debate that swirled like a Category 5 hurricane. Maybe I wasn’t entirely off base in my previous column. After all, I did envision winning being the panacea. Sure enough, the letters to the editor and online comments have ceased, and the high school bleachers are filled to the brim.Somewhere athletic director Carol Sams is smiling.Do I still find the actions of the school’s administration a bit unsettling? Absolutely. Do I think their intentions were misguided and dishonest? Sure. But I’m softening my stance.I honestly believe Sams, Principal Charlie Anastas and Superintendent Diana Sirko – the new coach’s wife – did have the best interest of the student-athletes at heart. They endured the scrutiny, cries of nepotism and dissension both inside and outside the school and never wavered. I’m grateful former Skiers coach Travis Benson landed on his feet – he is a member of the coaching staff for undefeated Glenwood Springs, 3A’s top-ranked team.And I’m grateful this issue appears to be resolved. Sirko has proven himself to be cordial, appreciative and, above all, a winner. Heck, if he takes Aspen to the playoffs, I say they consider naming the stadium after him.The administration believed in Sirko. His players believe in him.We all believe in him.Jon Maletz, aka “The Hammer,” would love to hear from Mike Sirko’s detractors now. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Prior to starting his trek across U.S., Larkins had never run more than a marathon and had never been to Colorado