Hoping to begin Fall 2020; would start with JV
By Katherine Nettles
Gunnison High School (GHS) is looking to start up its own high school soccer program, and Gunnison Middle School (GMS) language arts teacher Susan Powers is ready for the long haul. On April 8, Powers presented the Gunnison Watershed School District (GWSD) board with an enthusiastic case for adding a soccer team to GHS, alongside a room packed full of 30-plus students clad in Gunnison soccer jerseys, and almost as many parents and coaches.
Powers presented an initial proposal and a number of letters from the community in support of adding a team.
“The first question of course is, why do we need a new program?” said Powers. First, she said, is the current number of youth players. Between fall 2017 and spring 2018, she said there was a 32 percent increase in soccer participation in Gunnison, including not only spring and fall, but also a summer program and winter futsal.
“These are kids who are pretty committed to this sport and have a strong passion for it,” she said, and showed estimates of seven, eight and nine players per graduating class enrolled in current programs.
Powers noted the success of the competitive travel program for the Gunnison middle school students as well. “We’re not all about winning all the time. However, kids who are successful carry that success into other areas of their life, including their academics, their social interactions and everything else.”
A major consideration, Powers said, was the demographics of youth within the program. She noted a high number of Latino /Hispanic players, and spoke of a “huge correlation between extracurricular activity participation and academic success.” Being part of a high school team, she argued, is the best way to include kids in the community.
“If we want to reach out to all the members of our community, then we need to bridge that gap. You can see a diversity,” Powers said.
Powers gave two more reasons for a new program: The difficulty for GHS students to participate on the Crested Butte Community School (CBCS) program; and the overall community support for having a program at GHS.
“The program at [CBCS] is a really, really challenging program for kids in Gunnison to participate in. There are a lot of logistical problems, which creates a system of inequity,” Powers said.
Additionally, she said the program at CBCS cannot accommodate the number of players in Gunnison, and there is no interest in recreational league soccer anymore because by high school age, “Every kid in the state is representing their high school at that point.”
The district has responded to the concept with some concerns of its own, which GWSD superintendent Leslie Nichols described during further discussion at the end of the board meeting. Powers said the district’s decision not to fund a program in the fall of 2019, as originally hoped, would not discourage her. “I hear your no for now, but this is my way of saying we are going to stay the course,” said Powers.
Powers said she has secured initial funding, with donors who have pledged to cover start-up costs, and noted GHS already has the facilities including fields, goals and nets. The program is asking for an additional $3,000.
In a breakdown of other school sports, Powers also showed statistics from across the state. Out of 67 current 3A high schools, Powers said 87 percent of those offer soccer, 73 percent offer a football program, and 16 percent offer lacrosse. While many athletic programs in rural districts struggle, high school soccer has steadily increased for the past 20 years, she said.
Two parents spoke in support of adding the program. Maria Struble said she knows from teaching at Western Colorado University about the importance of building connections to the community, and creating opportunities for college kids to be mentors. “The diversity bit is huge. There are mental, physical and academic benefits,” she said.
Andy Dunda said he sees room for a girls team as well, saying, “We had a huge girl population.” He said he could see the interest peak in eighth grade but then disappear, and spoke to the difficulty of demonstrating that there is interest when there is no program, because the kids choose sports that are offered.
“What all kids want is to belong,” said GHS English and former English as Second Language (ESL) teacher Sherri Anderson. “When you’re talking about extracurricular activities, people also want to do the thing that they love to do… I think that providing this many people, with the demographics of our town, a chance to belong, truly is at their high school. Obviously they belong in their community—we are an open-minded community and an open-hearted community. But where a 15-year-old boy or a 15-year-old girl wants to belong is at their high school. And I think this is a program that can truly do that.”
As for one of the three areas of concern which Nichols later identified, Powers addressed Title IX, an amendment in the U.S. Department of Education that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
“The Title IX implications mean that you must add a girls program. We are very aware of that balance and what needs to happen,” Powers said. The final goal is to commit to a boys JV soccer team in the fall of 2020.
Nichols discussed with the board why she had initially turned down the program, citing the main concerns: Long-term funding for the program; Title IX ratios in which “compliance is complicated;” and “human capacity to manage another fall sport” from a personnel standpoint—in addition to maintaining interest in and support for cross country, golf and football.
CBCS high school soccer coach Than Acuff, who led the boys varsity soccer team to state title last fall, commented on the future of CBCS if Gunnison were to take on a program of its own.
“Every year we have a couple of players from Gunnison High School play and they always contribute in a huge way to the team. That said, I know there are families in Gunnison that can’t make it possible for their kids to play in Crested Butte and therefore don’t play and that is what is most important, that the kids get to play. In addition, having an opponent just 30 minutes away would be a welcome change to our current road schedule, in which our closest opponent is two and a half hours away.”
Nichols said her next steps would be to give an interest survey to students and to look further into Title IX requirements.
“I’m a big fan of everything in that presentation, and would love to see it happen,” said board member Tyler Martineau.
“It is actively being looked at,” responded Nichols, having noted the importance of potential cultural connection.