John F. Russell: Success starts before high school |

John F. Russell: Success starts before high school

— All too often in the world of high school athletics, and athletics in general, success is measured simply in terms of wins and loses.

A winning program is normally tagged as a successful program, and a losing program is tagged as failing. I would argue that while a team’s final record is an important measure of success and failure, it isn’t always the best way to gauge the success of a program. Take the Steamboat Springs High School girls lacrosse program, for example.

The team has recorded just one win — against an upstart program in Telluride — this season in nine attempts. The Sailors lost to Aspen Friday afternoon, falling to 1-8.

If you only look at wins and losses, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the Steamboat Springs program is failing to make the grade. But I would urge fans of Steamboat Springs High School athletics to look beyond the team’s record to a different set of numbers. Last year, the program had 17 out of the 18 athletes who came out for the team take the field. This year, 27 players came out for the team, and of those, 25 have seen playing time this season. Injuries have kept the other two off the field. For an up-and-coming program, those numbers indicate great success.

“It’s been huge,” Coach Betsy Frick said of a new middle school program that began traveling to tournaments last year. It was the first year she had enough players to call her efforts a feeder program. The two spring seasons prior to the start of the program, a handful of middle school girls would compete at home against teams from Wyoming. Now the team travels to different tournaments across the state.

The coach said the new feeder program grew last year, drawing the interest of new players and helping those who had played before gain valuable on-field experience. Frick is hopeful that, as it continues to grow, the program will result in more players who are better prepared to play the high school game when they reach ninth grade.

Last year, the middle school team played in three, one-day tournaments. This year, Frick wasn’t sure if there would be a middle school program after the coach who ran the program moved back to Boulder. But she was thrilled when Jen Paoli stepped up and decided to help with this year’s programs, which will include both middle school, for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, and elementary school programs, for students between second and fifth grades.

“It’s one of the most important things we can do,” Paoli said of the youth programs. “Our success is 100 percent dependant on these programs.”

The idea of having a feeder program is nothing new in Steamboat Springs, and it’s hard to come up with a high school sport that doesn’t have some place for young athletes to learn the basics. Soccer, hockey, tennis, boys lacrosse and baseball all have programs outside of school that pave the way for high school programs. Football, track, basketball, wrestling, and volleyball all have middle school programs. I’m hard pressed to find any sports that don’t offer some sort of introduction to their sport before high school. The middle school girls lacrosse program is just officially entering it’s second year (there was a group of girls playing before that), but the number of athletes who have come out are proof that the feeder program is working. It may not have translated into more wins at the high school level, but I will be watching to see how this class of girls will fare in year’s to come.

This year’s team has only three seniors on the roster. The rest of the team consists of seven freshmen, 13 sophomores and four juniors.

Personally, I think this might be one of the best seasons for the program, which is still developing it’s own identity at the high school. This year, the number of players in the program has jumped, and the level of talent among the incoming players seems to be getting better and better each year. Thanks to Frick’s efforts, and the development of a new elementary and middle school program, the future of girl’s lacrosse is brighter than ever. The program is taking steps toward future success by developing players at a younger age and bringing new players to the sport. The key to success for any high school program begins with its feeder programs.

This team’s success can’t be measured in terms of wins or losses at this point, but if the program stays on track, that day is just around the corner.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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