Football realignment could shake things up for Routt County teams

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— Transportation never is easy for high school sports teams competing in leagues against far-flung foes in western Colorado and all of the published options for realigned football divisions by the Colorado High School Activities Association only make things more difficult.

CHSAA proposed 17 alignment options for the seven classes of high school football in the state for the 2014-15 season. The options will be voted on Thursday at the football committee meeting. None of the available options are ideal for local schools.

Some things will remain the same. All three local schools will remain in their current classification, Steamboat Springs at Class 3A and Hayden and Soroco at 8-man. A shift in teams in divisions, however, could lead to frustratingly long road trips.

Consider Hayden and Soroco. The last two years they’ve been paired with West Grand, Vail Christian, Rangely and South Park.

South Park dropped its football program before this season and the other three, while not exactly close, aren’t an unmanageable distance away, Rangely the furthest at 138 miles from Oak Creek and 110 from Hayden.

Both of the newly proposed 8-man options swap West Grand and Vail Christian out, however, and sub in Nucla and Norwood, both of which are in the southwest quadrant of the state, and Plateau Valley, just south of Interstate 70 between Rifle and Palisade. Rangely will be the closest while Nucla and Norwood would be nearly twice as far away, about 280 miles, one way.

What were road trips to Kremmling and Vail, less than 90 minutes each for both schools, will balloon to six- or seven-hour journeys.

“I’m not sure geographically how they figured that out,” Soroco football coach David Bruner said.

Competitively things would change, as well. Vail Christian won the league this year and West Grand last, but both played seasons full of competitive games. Nucla and Plateau Valley enter as seriously struggling programs while Norwood is one of the premier programs in the state and immediately would be the favorite to win the league annually. The Mavericks have made the 8-man semifinals four of the past five years and haven’t lost more than one regular season game since 2008.

“A team like Norwood coming in, they’re the team to beat and they’re the ones who will set the standard,” Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said. “You have to welcome that competitiveness. That forces you to play at that level.”

Other proposed changes in the 8-man format eliminate the cross-divisional round of the postseason that matched the top four teams from each two divisions of the same conference. Instead there would be six conferences with between six and eight teams each. There will be nine guaranteed weeks of games instead of eight and playoff spots will be determined by wild card points.

The changes aren’t quite as drastic for Steamboat. The Sailors still will be in the Western Slope and with many of the teams it has been, Delta, Eagle Valley, Glenwood Springs, Palisade, Rifle and Summit. Central Grand Junction is new to the group and natural rival Moffat County and 2013 punching bag Battle Mountain are out, both dropping down to Class 2A.

Steamboat will be the second smallest school in that group, with enrollment of 645. Central has more than twice the students and is the largest in the division with 1,452.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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