The announcement this week that the Steamboat Springs High School football team won the academic state championship in Class 3A is an excellent sign that the program is headed in the right direction.
2004 was not the easiest of years for the football team. It began with the departure of coach Mark Drake, who was forced to resign after 30 years at the school. Drake had led the team to a state semifinal berth in 2003, and many disagreed with the school district's decision not to extend him another contract. (It should be noted that Drake had taken early retirement and had agreed to a short-term contract that the school district was under no obligation to renew.)
Aaron Finch was named the team's head coach and got off to a slow start. The Sailors lost their first five games. Then came the game against Battle Mountain in mid-October. After the game, the Battle Mountain coach alleged that the Sailors made disparaging, racist remarks during and after the game to the Battle Mountain players. The allegations were never substantiated, but they drew statewide attention.
To the school district's credit, Finch and school officials investigated the allegations thoroughly. They even took the step of organizing a meeting between Steamboat Springs students and Battle Mountain students at a neutral location. That meeting did not heal all of the wounds between the two schools, but the students who participated acknowledged that they have greater respect and understanding for each other.
Even after such an ugly start on and off the field, the Sailors somehow righted their ship. They closed the season with four consecutive wins, including a big victory against playoff-bound Glenwood Springs in the finale.
The Sailors survived an 0-5 start and took the right steps to address the Battle Mountain allegations. The four consecutive wins gave the team a respectable 4-5 record. In the face of significant adversity, Finch and the Sailors found a way to turn their season around.
But those achievements are modest in comparison to winning the academic state championship. The Colorado High School Athletics Association awards academic state championships in all sports. The award goes to the team with the highest overall grade point average. The overall GPA is determined by averaging the GPAs of the 80 percent of the team members who played the most.
In Steamboat's case, the average GPA was 3.18, the best in Class 3A.
The academic state championship underscores that Steamboat's players truly are student athletes. High school sports should enhance, not detract from, a student's education. The team GPA suggests that is happening in Steamboat.
Everyone involved in the football program should be proud of the academic state championship. It is clear proof that, despite a rocky start, the program is in good hands under Finch and his staff.