Rifle dropping a classification

Bears will compete in Class 3A except girls golf

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— Enrollment numbers are tallied up, and the wheels are in motion. Almost all of Rifle High School’s athletic programs are dropping a classification next school year.

In 2010-11, the Bears, currently a 4A school, will compete in Class 3A in all sports except girls golf, which has only two classifications (4A and 5A). Rifle will remain at the 3A level in football, which uses different enrollment thresholds than other sports.

The change will be in effect for a two-school-year cycle, after which the Colorado High School Activities Association will re-evaluate enrollment counts.

It’s a shift that could breathe new life into athletics at Rifle, where the Bears have endured struggles in many sports in recent years. A dwindling enrollment, spurred by the opening of nearby Coal Ridge High School in 2005, has made it tough for the Bears to compete against larger schools.

“I think it’ll help us out,” said Rifle Athletic Director Troy Phillips, who’s also the school’s head baseball coach and assistant softball coach. “We have been, for a few years, one of the smallest schools in the 4A league. That does make it more difficult to compete.”

Rifle’s enrollment figure totaled 615, Phillips said. That left the school 16 students shy of qualifying for 4A status under CHSAA’s parameters for the 2010-12 classification cycle. CHSAA’s 631-student threshold for 4A status increased from the last cycle, in which an enrollment of 586 or higher meant a 4A slotting. The 3A cutoff for football is 601 students.

CHSAA’s classification and league organizing committee met Monday and Tuesday to review all things related to reclassification.

Rifle’s drop to Class 3A might not last long. It’s hard to know what the future holds.

“It’ll be interesting to see how things go the next two years, if we’ll get over that and be back in 4A,” Phillips said. “I don’t know.”

The direction of the economy and the growth of the housing industry in western Garfield County will have a lot to do with that.

Until this upcoming classification cycle is complete, Rifle will play the card it’s been dealt.

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