Schools realign prep sports leagues, schedules due to canyon closures

Rich Allen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Roaring Fork School District school buses sit at the bus barn in Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

As Glenwood Canyon once again sat empty and quiet Thursday, many motorists found themselves taking an hours-long detour to the north.

Among them was a Roaring Fork School District bus carrying the Basalt High School softball team, a day early for a tournament in Eaton, near Fort Collins. The canyon closure turned an already four-hour trek into one twice as long.

The team, composed of players from Basalt in addition to Roaring Fork and Glenwood Springs high schools, initially set off in a mini bus built to accommodate 14 passengers. When the driver, Cindy Stowe, realized just how cramped the long journey would be for the 13 players and coaches, she made the decision to get a bigger bus.

With ample space available, players spread out, slept, traded food and made the best of the longer than usual journey.

“It’s a little bit annoying, especially when you can’t contact anyone and tell anyone where you are when there’s no cell service,” softball player Kat Lott said. “But it was real fun. We bonded over it a lot.”

Uncertainty around the future of Glenwood Canyon makes every eastbound game for local sports teams an ordeal. A match or game between Eagle Valley and Glenwood Springs could, under normal conditions, be completed in under five hours there-and-back. With the canyon closed, travel time alone would exceed that.

With that in mind, local athletic directors and CHSAA created new schedules and temporary leagues to minimize travel through the canyon on a sport-by-sport basis. Weekends allow teams to make the long trip around if necessary and shouldn’t be impacted. Midweek contests that can’t be moved to weekends, however, pose a greater challenge.

This means sports like football, which plays on Friday and doesn’t have to worry about school the next day, is unaffected. Volleyball teams can play multiple times in a day, so overnight weekend tournaments to consolidate competition were created. Glenwood Springs will play three different teams at Eagle Valley on Sept. 10 and 11, for example.

The most creative solution was a reshuffle of the 3A and 4A classifications of boys soccer on the Western Slope. The 3A/4A Western Slope West and 3A/4A Western Slope East leagues were born with Glenwood Canyon serving as the de facto border in between.

Because no teams left the Western Slope League, it was able to reorganize as it saw fit without approval from CHSAA, Justin Saylor, the CHSAA assistant commissioner, said.

Rifle and Glenwood Springs, the only 4A representatives in the nine-team West league, agreed to have to qualify for playoff competition through RPI, while league champions normally earn an automatic bid. In the six-team East, Vail Mountain is the only team from 3A. Gunnison, 3A in most sports, is also in the East after not playing last year.

For schools like Rifle, Glenwood Springs, Coal Ridge and Roaring Fork, it gives them opportunities to play some of their closest geographic rivals under a league umbrella.

The process for laying out the new leagues began in early August at a conference of the state’s athletic directors, Glenwood Springs High School Athletic Director Craig Denney said. He added that the plan was formalized last week.

“The thing about our district is we’re really proactive,” Denney said. “We just want our kids to be able to play, especially after last year.”

No decisions for winter sports have yet been made.


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