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John F. Russell: Steamboat to provide stage for top skiers

It’s the ultimate goal of every student athlete.

Sure, they might tell you playing high school sports is all about having fun with your buddies, staying involved with school and building character.

But look into their eyes in the heat of a hard-fought game or watch the flood of emotion that comes from losing in the state playoffs and you realize that the ultimate goal for most teams, and most athletes, is pocketing an elusive state title.

When I was in high school, I never experienced the feeling of winning — or even coming close to winning — a state title.

But I’ve witnessed state-title drives several times since leaving college. Most of the drives have fallen short, but not all of them.

I still remember a small group of dedicated wrestlers from Soroco High School carrying their coach off the floor of McNichols Arena in Denver after winning the state title in 1995. Their arms were held high in victory and their hands and smiles told everyone that they were the No. 1 team in the state.

There was also a bittersweet celebration in the middle of a soccer field in Englewood after the Steamboat Springs Sailors defeated the Palisade Bulldogs, 3-2, to win the state’s 3A soccer crown in the spring of 1998. Mixed among the cheers of joy for realizing the ultimate goal were the tears and hugs of realizing it was all over.

All that remains for the players on those teams are the memories of the moments that made those championship games special. It’s those memories that make winning a state title so meaningful.

This week, I will get to witness the drive for a state title once again, but for the first time since I came to Steamboat in 1990, I will not have to travel to cover the championship. Instead, it will come to me.

It’s hard to believe, but when the Colorado State High School Skiing Championships come here this week, it will be the first time this mountain town has ever hosted a state championship in any sport — or at least that’s the consensus.

After calling the high school, Winter Sports Club and checking around the newspaper office, nobody can remember a high school state championship taking place here. I couldn’t get anyone to guarantee it hasn’t happened in the past, but I would bet the family farm (if I had one) that it hasn’t happened in the past decade.

In a town that has hosted World Cups and top-level skiing competitions for as long as anyone can remember, the high school championship might seem like just another series of ski races.

But for the athletes and their families who will drive here from across the state, next weekend will be special. It will be the time when memories are forged and athletes will be given a rare opportunity to reach their ultimate goal — and maybe even pocket that elusive state title.

— To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com


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