Ask a coach, an athlete or even Pueblo West Athletic Director, Zach Odell: ‘Why don’t you move leagues — make the South-Central League a non-Cyclone league?’
The answer: “it’s out of our control.”
The most recent volleyball season, which resulted in a Cyclone S-CL title and 13-1 record, brought to light an argument. With automatic bids to the postseason this year, Pueblo West was given a trip to the 5A regionals — which it was unable to attend after COVID-19 complications — as part of a largely 4A league.
Pueblo South missed the 4A regionals by a handful of spots after producing its own productive season. The two meshed in conversation, due to the 4A school missing out on an auto-bid to a now-5A Cyclone team.
The problem, to Odell, is the logic behind the frustration. He declines that Pueblo West caused South to miss the postseason, in part because, “even a team like South losing to us is going to help its RPI,” he said.
Financial, logistical and even historical concerns are all at the forefront of why Pueblo West has been unable to simply ‘move leagues.’
“We’ve looked at everything from Colorado Springs to South-Suburban Denver,” Odell said about moving leagues. “Our coach says, ‘We need to get in another league.’ A lot of people say, ‘Well, you can travel,’ and what they don’t think about is that football (for example), you have freshmen that travel and JV who travels and JV is opposite, so you’re always having someone travel.
“If we’re playing (Pueblo) County, its freshmen come out here and our JV goes out there. That’s a lot different than going all the way to Littleton or Monument or Colorado Springs every single week.”
The financial and logistical hurdles are too much to overcome without a change in budget for the district. Sending three levels of teams on bus rides multiple times per week, for many sports, isn’t an option — especially if every team has to move leagues.
“(That move) can run (at least) $20,000 because of transportation and meals alone,” Rick Macias, director of District 60 athletics said.
Odell has argued to have just his 5A teams move to other leagues, while those still classified as 4A stay put.
“(Another league) would have to allow us to just bring our 5A teams,” Odell said. “So just basketball, baseball and we would schedule the Pueblo teams as our non-league — I wouldn’t have a problem with that. We can’t have everybody do it, because we can’t afford it.”
Leagues have been skeptical of moving some teams, while not bringing in others, which has led to another hurdle in Pueblo West’s wishes to move.
Another problem Pueblo West faces is the move’s impact on the S-CL. The league is already a smaller one when compared to the rest of the state after losing multiple teams in past years.
Losing Pueblo West would leave the league with only five teams — a number that hits both the issue of an odd number of teams, as well as an even more limited league season, leading to more travel.
Macias says the move would likely cause the S-CL to be forced to combine with another — likely one in Colorado Springs that can incorporate 3A and 4A schools. The cost of each school moving would likely mirror what Pueblo West would pay if they moved.
The S-CL may not completely fit Pueblo West, as it currently stands, but there’s history which makes its place in the league important.
“The natural rivalries that we have out here, you know, it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun,” Casey King, Pueblo West girls volleyball head coach, said. “If we had the opportunity to move up (to a different league) I would probably jump on it, but I would miss those rivalry games.
“It’s fun for the fans. It was kind of cool, in a girls sport last year (that) County and West played in a gym as packed as any basketball game.”
Pueblo is praised for the ability to have history in its prep sports. So often, northern schools are becoming pipelines for athletes to the next level, while Puebloans are quick to tell stories of high school and the pride of their alma mater.
Odell knows the vigor in the city, because he’s coached and played in it for over a decade.
Pueblo West is the newest member of the rivalry club, but nearly 25 years is hard to throw away.
Solutions are scarce, but in motion
A looming factor in the Pueblo West move is how unusual this season really was. COVID-19 changed the playoff format for nearly every sport, but will revert back to past rules in nearly every case as soon as the pandemic subsides.
The solution to the problem could be as simple as a return to normalcy.
“A lot of the the playoff formats that you saw this year will be non-existent next year,” Bert Borgmann, CHSAA assistant commissioner said. “I think it’s important to have that caveat there.”
For the problems remaining — a S-CL with all 4A schools, outside of one and an inability to change for Pueblo West — there’s only a few solutions.
The biggest solution, which is out of the school’s hands, is CHSAA’s move to 6A in some sports. Basketball is already set to make the jump, while football and other sports could soon follow.
The creation of a 6A would allow for the Cyclones to compete against competition with similar attendance and resources. Its matchups against the Cherry Creek and Columbines of the state, who both have far larger enrollment, which would be lessened.
Attendance problems are often a side effect of CHSAA classification changes. Schools like Pueblo West and Pine Creek, who are firmly teetering the line of being a 4A or 5A-sized school, are often those most impacted.
At the 4A level, Pueblo West and Pine Creek are dominant in several sports. Moving up a level pits each school against opponents who’s pools to draw players from are often 500-1,000 students larger.
“When you appeal, (CHSAA) isn’t going to feel sorry for you being moved up when you’ve been successful,” Odell said. “There’s years that Coronado wasn’t very good in football and they moved down and all of a sudden, Coronado moved to 3A and they won a state title.
“On our end, it doesn’t seem like it’s fair.”
As it stands, CHSAA uses a system when choosing to move teams up or down classifications. It uses a list of factors, which are in the organization’s bylaws, when making the determination:
- Socio-economic status of school’s population
- Demographics of school’s population
- Participant safety concerns
- Competitive success and non-success
- Competitive history and balance
- School’s enrollment trend
- Schools participation rate in CHSAA sponsored activities
- Entry or selection process of school
- Prior year, out-of-building students percentage on rosters
The school attendance figures play into the decision greatly, but aren’t the sole decider. Every two years, CHSAA goes back through and shifts sports.
With the routine shuffle, Pueblo West could very well be back in 4A — if 6A doesn’t take hold in the near future. The problems which arose this year would largely be squashed by a move back down.
Both solutions are out of Pueblo West’s control.
The Cyclones’ athletic staff isn’t trying to rack up league titles, while ignoring postseason preparation. For now, though, they simply have to work with the parameters they’ve been given.
“I try to emphasize taking pride in winning our league and beating other Pueblo schools, because, for me, that’s where it starts,” Odell said. “I try to celebrate the successes we have while we can, but our ultimate goal is to win a state championship.”
Chieftain reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @lukezahlmann.