Steamboat Springs Sailor Garrett Bye goes up against Ben Custer during practice Friday afternoon at the high school. Class 4A teams like Steamboat with enrollment of less than 1,000 have trouble staying competitive.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs Sailor Garrett Bye goes up against Ben Custer during practice Friday afternoon at the high school. Class 4A teams like Steamboat with enrollment of less than 1,000 have trouble staying competitive.

Class 4A numbers show how special Battle Mountain soccer run was

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Classification enrollment

1A: 1 to 85

2A: 86 to 240

3A: 241 to 600

4A: 601 to 1,410

5A: 1,411 and up

Class 4A enrollments

(Figures from schools that offer soccer.)

More than 1,000 students

Pueblo South 1,394; Greeley Central 1,387; Montrose 1,372; Coronado 1,367; Broomfield 1,367; Air Academy 1,362; Wheat Ridge 1,334; Denver South 1,330; Thompson Valley 1,328; Cheyenne Mountain 1,325; Niwot 1,290; Pueblo West 1,285; Durango 1,270; Mesa Ridge 1,256; Golden 1,255; Falcon 1,247; Widefield 1,241; Skyline 1,218; Longmont 1,195; John F. Kennedy 1,194; Green Mountain 1,168; Ponderosa 1,166; Sand Creek 1,160; Vista Ridge 1,147; Windsor 1,131; Palmer Ridge 1,123; Mountain View 1,120; Pueblo Centennial 1,105; Canon City 1,058; Thomas Jefferson 1,048; Centaurus 1,043; Silver Creek 1,028; Evergreen 1,017; Palisade 1,013

Less than 1,000 students

Arvada 999, Northridge 997, Pueblo Central 994, Pueblo East 958, Mitchell 940, Woodland Park 938, Wasson 931, Lewis-Palmer 925, Fort Morgan 870, Sierra 862, Conifer 855, Pueblo County 851, Frederick 834, Glenwood Springs 818, Harrison 817, Montezuma-Cortez 810, Mullen 804, Valor Christian 787, Summit 777, Alameda 775, Roosevelt 746, Battle Mountain 744, Denver North 744, Vista Peak 738, Elizabeth 721, Eagle Valley 700, Skyview 672, Rifle 663, Delta 642, D’Evelyn 611, Denver West 629, Weld Central 625, Englewood 623, Steamboat Springs 622, Berthoud 622, Moffat County 608

Competitive imbalance

(Percentage of schools that made it to the Class 4A final eight with enrollments of less than 1,000.)

Baseball: 4.7 percent from 1995 to 2011

Girls soccer: 5.6 percent from 2003 to 2011

Boys track: 10 percent from 2007 to 2011

Boys soccer: 12.5 percent from 2003 to 2011

Girls golf: 12.5 percent from 2011

Boys cross-country: 17.5 percent from 2007 to 2011

Volleyball: 18 percent from 2008 to 2011

Boys golf: 21 percent from 2009 to 2011

Softball: 25 percent from 2005 to 2011

Boys basketball: 26 percent from 2003 to 2011

Girls cross-country: 27.5 percent from 2007 to 2011

Girls track: 31 percent from 2007 to 2011

Girls basketball: 32 percent from 2003 to 2011

Wrestling: 45 percent from 2005 to 2011

— Battle Mountain soccer coach Dave Cope’s voice still was raspy early Friday.

Certainly, last Saturday’s state championship triumph contributed, but Cope has been on the phone quite a bit this week taking well wishes, congrats and attaboys from all across the country.

It’s well deserved. Battle Mountain’s 1-0 win against Palmer Ridge in the 4A state championship game was unprecedented in soccer.

The Huskies became the first Western Slope soccer team to win a 4A crown. They’ve been treated like the president in the Vail Valley. And before the U.S. Alpine Ski Team was announced Thursday in Vail, the soccer team first was introduced.

On Thursday, “we had our season banquet,” Cope said. “I was sitting next to my wife (Kathleen), and the parents had put together a video. We were watching, and my wife leaned over and said, ‘It still doesn’t seem real. It still seems like a movie we watched.’

“And it really does. We are well aware of the numbers. But we always wanted to be the last team under 1,000 (students enrolled) left.”

That’s what makes Battle Mountain’s run so unique. There is a competitive imbalance in Class 4A. The classification includes enrollments of 601 to 1,410 students. In a study done before the 2011-12 school year, Rifle Athletic Director Troy Phillips looked at how tough it was for teams in Class 4A to stay competitive with an enrollment of less than 1,000. Looking at baseball, track, soccer, cross-country, volleyball, softball, golf, basketball and wrestling, Phillips found exactly what he thought he would.

Schools in 4A with enrollments of less than 1,000 struggled. In half of the sports examined, fewer than 20 percent of the schools with less than 1,000 students advanced to the final eight in 4A.

Baseball was the lowest, with just 4.7 percent of teams making the final eight. Wrestling was the most equitable with 45 percent making the final eight.

“It doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to win,” said Phillips, who started to look at the imbalance after coaching baseball at Rifle for the past 17 years. “Battle Mountain beat the numbers. It’s very rare. It’s an incredible feat. I don’t know if people understand that.”

Competitive imbalance always has been an issue with no easy solution, and many factors contribute to the problem. Front Range schools have built-in advantages. They travel less, there are more opportunities to play year-round and youth and club systems are readily available.

Colorado High School Activities Association Commissioner Paul Angelico said it’s an issue his office has been examining for the past two years.

“It’s as frustrating an issue as there is today,” Angelico said. “Some people say if you have more classifications, it will solve it. Some people think that will hurt it.”

Angelico said the model is for the largest school in a classification to have no more than 2.5 times the number of students in the classification's smallest school.

Currently, the ratio in 4A is 2.3. The largest ratio is 2.7 in Class 2A.

But 4A schools with enrollments of less than 1,000 still have a tough time competing. It’s even tougher on the Western Slope, where athletes often have to travel at least 45 minutes for games.

“Really, what we’re playing for is league titles,” said Luke DeWolfe, who coaches the Steamboat Springs boys basketball team and serves as the school’s athletic director. “Realistically, that’s what our team plays for.”

During DeWolfe’s first two years coaching, his team met Longmont in the state playoffs. Longmont, a school with more than 1,000 enrolled, won both times.

“We could compete with them with our first five athletes,” he said. “The difference was the depth. Guys that came off their bench would start for us.”

Angelico said CHSAA has a committee that looks at the classifications. He said it’s an ongoing discussion and a topic that’s not easy to deal with.

Regardless, the numbers tell just how impressive Battle Mountain’s win was. It was Cope’s 20th year coaching the Huskies and his first state title.

“We just wanted to show how the Western (Slope) has developed,” said Battle Mountain senior Diego Rodriguez, a key cog in the Huskies’ run. “We wanted to prove that we were better. We can play them and play with anybody. We know we can play with all the big teams.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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