MESA COUNTY, Colo. “Going to the 3A Western Slope League was not a downplay for us by any means, as far going to do something easier, it was going to do something different,” said Shawn Marsh, Head Coach at Central football.
And come fall of 2016, Central football, alongside Fruita Monument and Grand Junction, will try something different once again.
These 5A squads are all set to enter the ranks of 4A football.
“We’re all too big to play in 3A. We're all playing exactly right where we should be right now, and this is how it should keep it,” said Marsh.
It’s been eleven years since the football landscape in the Grand Valley.
“None of our sports, including our football, generate enough, we don’t have enough money to cover expenses,” said Paul Cain, District 51 Athletic Director.
For the first time in the history of the Colorado High School Activities Association, schools were reclassified based on more than just enrollment numbers, taking into account the funding situation of each sport at every school across the state.
And it's the 4A shoe that fits the best for most of our District 51 teams.
“The District gives us some seed money to start. It's $20,000 for operating expenses. We have to rent the stadium which is $48,000 and then basically, we generate off of gate receipts and athletic fees from our students,” Cain said.
In 2014, District 51 poured in $111,283 into its sports programs and followed up the next year with $113, 843.
Numbers that just don't compare to what Front Range schools can do for their athletes.
You'll see football programs short, mostly at the freshman and junior varsity levels that don't do a lot of traveling and then get hit with a dose of 5A reality on the gridiron as a varsity member.
“If we were able to do that someday and we were able play our freshman and two sophomore teams and do all those things, then think we could compete with anybody, but you have to play them all the time, not just when you show up as a varsity game and think it’s going to happen,” said Marsh.
Only Fruita Monument and Grand Junction played in 5A for the 2015 season, each falling below .500 in league play.
Records that Fruita's Head Coach, Todd Casebier says are a numbers game.
“Our guys felt improved that they could compete in 5A, but again you've always got those two or three games that you need to win and that comes down to depth and at times we didn’t have that,” said Fruita’s Head Coach, Todd Casebier.
It's still a concern for the Wildcats as they head into 4A with a whole new set of teams to conquer.
“The biggest mistake we can make is thinking that's anybody that's dropping because you're going from 5 to 4 or 4 to 3 is that all you got to do is show up and you're going to win.
And with all the crosstown rivalries, well, that's even more incentive to go “all in” in Class 4A football.