Hayden High School football coach Shawn Baumgartner directs his team late in Friday’s 13-6 victory against Paonia. The win boosted the Tigers to near the front of the Class 1A Western Slope League standings, but no matter how the season turns out, Hayden’s not likely to stick with 11-man football. A shrinking school enrollment combined with a growth in school size at the state’s 1A classification, quickly could render the Tigers uncompetitive in the division. They’ll have the option of joining the 8-man ranks for play next year, and school officials are leaning toward taking it.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden High School football coach Shawn Baumgartner directs his team late in Friday’s 13-6 victory against Paonia. The win boosted the Tigers to near the front of the Class 1A Western Slope League standings, but no matter how the season turns out, Hayden’s not likely to stick with 11-man football. A shrinking school enrollment combined with a growth in school size at the state’s 1A classification, quickly could render the Tigers uncompetitive in the division. They’ll have the option of joining the 8-man ranks for play next year, and school officials are leaning toward taking it.

Hayden High School likely to shift to 8-man football

Advertisement

Hayden School District 2011-12 enrollment

■ Hayden Middle School

Sixth grade: 28 students

Seventh grade: 24 students

Eighth grade: 27 students

Total: 79

■ Hayden High School

Ninth grade: 26 students

10th grade: 31 students

11th grade: 32 students

12th grade: 25 students

Total: 114

Source: Hayden School District

— It doesn’t come down to the scores. It comes down to the numbers, and the numbers say even though the Hayden High School football team has remained competitive in Colorado’s Class 1A, a move to 8-man football is imminent.

The school’s enrollment numbers, released this week, are used by the Colorado High School Activities Association to divide teams into classifications, and for the Tigers, things are coming up 8-man.

“We’re trying to weigh our options,” Tigers coach Shawn Baumgartner said. “It would definitely be a big adjustment.”

No matter its enrollment, Hayden won’t be required to go 8-man, but the district-wide numbers and anecdotes from other schools indicate the drop may be inevitable.

Adding up to 8

Hayden’s Oct. 1 enrollment figures count 114 students at the high school, down from 132 just a year ago. Things won’t likely improve any time soon, either. This year’s senior class has 25 students, but there are only 21 eighth-graders poised to replace them.

In fact, based on this year’s numbers, each class coming in will be smaller than the class it replaces for at least the next three years.

“If our enrollment was where it was six or seven years ago, we’d probably still fall in that 11-man classification,” Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes said. “But we’ve dropped significantly since then.”

While that doesn’t have to mean a smaller football program, it likely will.

Hayden has 35 athletes out for football this year. That’s actually more than Steamboat Springs and Soroco. But 17 of those 35 are juniors, and when that class graduates, the well of players quickly could run dry.

“I only have 38 boys in my middle school PE classes,” Baumgartner said. “If you get 50 percent out in four years, you’re looking at 20 or 22 kids on the team. So, 8-man fits that a lot better.”

A shift in state classifications also will nudge Hayden toward the change. Next year, the 8-man line will be at high schools with enrollments of 135 students or fewer, which should include Hayden. Class 1A, where the Tigers could opt to stay, would range from schools with 135 students to those with more than 300.

Having to face schools nearly three times Hayden’s size to realize any gridiron success would be daunting, maybe even demoralizing.

“You love to win, but the biggest thing is you want to be competitive,” Luppes said. “We’ve been competitive, but looking down the road that would be very hard for us to maintain.”

Change-up

As a coach, Baumgartner had plenty to concern himself with entering this fall, from challenging underclassmen to picking out playmakers.

Still, the realignment news hasn’t come as a surprise, and this summer at a coaching conference, he found himself in an 8-man lecture.

“I was clueless going into it,” he admitted. “It’s definitely going to be an adjustment for us as coaches.”

One bit of solace for Baumgartner and the rest of the Tigers: They’ll have plenty of familiar company in 8-man football. Soroco made the change four years ago, for some of the same reasons Hayden may, and for others as well.

The Rams had struggled for years to field competitive 11-man teams. That lack of success helped cripple the program, and, struggling to get even 11 healthy players on the field, the school sought out the switch before its enrollment figures required it.

That early jump left Soroco ineligible for the playoffs in its first two 8-man seasons — a fate Hayden would avoid — but now, the Rams have never been happier.

Overnight the program went from doormat to dominant. It’s 4-1 this season and has amassed a 21-9 record since the switch.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we wouldn’t have a football program if we’d stayed at 11-man,” Soroco Athletic Director Andy Johnson said. “Now, night in and night out we stand a better chance of competing.”

Hayden soon may be competing against not only their old Rams rivals, but also West Grand, which dropped to 8-man before last season; Rangely, now an uncompetitive 11-man program set to drop next season; and Vail Christian.

That potential league alignment would amount to a reunion for schools that used to play one another before classifications began to divide them.

“Looking at it financially and travelwise, it makes complete sense,” Baumgartner said.

For now, nothing’s sure, though school and progam officials are leaning heavily toward 8-man. Once a consensus is reached by the coach, athletics director, principal and superintendent, the school board must approve the decision.

It’s all likely to happen sooner rather than later, however, and the Tigers informally could be placed in their 8-man league late this month and playing in it by this time next fall.

If that’s how it all shakes out, there’s a lot to learn, Baumgartner said, reflecting on his short 8-man strategy primer. Still, he came away convinced things wouldn’t be all that different.

“You still come out and try to put the kids in positions to make plays,” he said. “It’s tough because we have been competitive, at least within our league, but at the same time, we can’t look just at this year or next year. You need to look ahead two, three or four years down the road and start planning for that, be proactive instead of reactive.

“We definitely don’t want to stay too long if we aren’t going to be competitive.”

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.