Steamboat Springs Former Steamboat Springs High School lacrosse player Jasper Gantick usually walked onto the field thinking the Sailors could win.
Besides, Gantick said, “If you don’t think you can win, why show up?”
Valiant in those principles, Gantick still knew the landscape of Colorado high school lacrosse. There is one classification, meaning schools four times as big as Steamboat compete with the Sailors in the same division.
“It’s definitely intimidating because they had a lot more kids to pull from,” said Gantick, a 2009 graduate. “Going in, you always thought we had a chance. But it was tough. At the end of the game, you’d be down 10 points still trying to keep the intensity and morale up.”
But the chance Gantick and so many players before him didn’t have is finally coming.
The Colorado High School Activities Association decided in January that, starting in spring 2013, lacrosse will be divided into two classifications, 4A and 5A. The split will be at 1,410 students, with smaller powerhouses being able to petition to move up and newer, struggling programs allowed to petition to move down.
“It was brought forward from the Metro League to go to two divisions,” said Harry Waterman, an assistant commissioner at CHSAA. “There will be 64 teams for the upcoming year, and that’s getting pretty large. It’s justifiable to consider a new division and make it into two classes.”
It’s a landmark move that creates a more even playing field and is another clear indication of how much the game continues to grow in the West.
The move should also allow Steamboat to become an annual favorite.
“It’s one of those deals where I looked up and said this is a turning point,” said Cherry Creek coach Bryan Perry, whose team won the state championship last season. “It is its own sport and much more mainstream. Certainly for the mountain schools, it is going to be effective. They can compete for a state championship year after year. I would put Steamboat as a front-runner in that conference.”
Although logistics such as conferences and playoff scenarios have to be worked out, it was a clear win for the smaller guys.
Teams in Steamboat’s division such as Aspen, Battle Mountain and Summit should all have chances now, as will medium-size schools such as Thompson Valley and Windsor.
“It gives more kids more opportunities to play for state championships,” Aspen coach Mike Goerne said. “On a whole, that’s the goal. Give each program a chance to be competitive.”
For Steamboat coach Bob Hiester, the move has been a long time coming.
The veteran coach was one of the original coaches in the Colorado High School Lacrosse Association when the sport wasn’t recognized by CHSAA.
In the late 1980s, Hiester said, with the influx of teams they went to two divisions.
“There were fewer of the blowout games,” he said. “We still get some, but it equalizes that playing field.”
Although the change still is two years away, the split is an encouraging one for a town that has embraced lacrosse like few in the West.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, so I saw the writing on the wall,” Perry said. “I wouldn’t be surprised in another 15 years to have three divisions. It’s a big, big turning point for the game here in the state.”
— To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@SteamboatToday.com