Domino effect: De Beque Dragons’ sports programs adjust to tough times on the fly

De Beque High School student Amelia Sanchez practices and plays volleyball with the Plateau Valley High School team because the Dragons don’t have enough players to field a volleyball team. The transition was made easier because Plateau Valley is coached by De Beque’s former coach, Britany Miller.

A volleyball is displayed in De Beque High School’s vacant gymnasium. There isn’t a volleyball program this year because there are only 25 kids in the high school. A poor economy halted the oil boom, causing enrollment to dip in De Beque and jeopardizing the school’s sports programs.


Down in DeBeque

The school’s enrollment numbers have dipped in relation to the town’s population. In the 2004-05 school year, enrollment was 178 in grades K-12, and the town’s population was near 600, according to a town employee. This fall, the school’s enrollment is 117; the town’s population has dropped to 450.

Shayla Randolph was looking forward to her senior year of high school.

She planned to play volleyball again and try out for girls basketball.

Before school started, however, she found out De Beque High School wasn’t offering either sport for the first time since girls started playing interscholastic sports in the late 1970s.

“I guess I was a little shocked we weren’t going to have a team,” Randolph said. “I was looking forward to playing for De Beque my senior year.”

The volleyball and girls basketball programs were dropped this year because of a lack of interest and enrollment.

Randolph is one of nine girls in the high school, one of six who planned to play volleyball and girls basketball this year. One girl broke a foot in the summer and won’t be able to play sports until spring at the earliest.

De Beque’s enrollment in grades 9-12 this school year is 25, according Marty Lucas, the school’s superintendent and principal. There are 117 children in the school district (Kindergarten through 12th grade), down from 178 in the 2004-05 school year.

“Our overall enrollment is down some, but we knew this was coming with the low number of girls,” Lucas said. “It’s not a total surprise, but it is still hard to swallow.”

Although De Beque’s school administration decided there wasn’t enough interest for a volleyball or girls basketball program, the girls were allowed to play for Plateau Valley this fall.

“It was a little upsetting, but it worked out pretty good,” Randolph said. “I like playing here. The girls are nice.”

A parent drives the girls the 23 miles to Collbran for practice each day.

“He is willing to do anything to have me play,” sophomore outside hitter Jillana Alderman said of her dad.

The Plateau Valley girls were a little surprised to find out a few De Beque girls would join them, but they’ve adjusted.

“We were rivals at one point, but it’s not bad at all,” Plateau Valley senior setter Myla Schweer said. “It’s not weird, as weird as all of us thought it was going to be. It’s not different, really.

“We’ve always been rivals. When we heard they were coming, we were like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s really not different.”

There are 25 girls, including the five from De Beque, in the Plateau Valley volleyball program this year. Varsity teams can have as many as 12 on the roster. Plateau Valley (3-8, 2-5 Class 2A Western Slope League) was swept in three games Saturday by North Park.

The transition was made a little easier with former De Beque coach, Britany Miller, taking over the Plateau Valley program this year.

“I’m glad they got to play,” Miller said. “At first it was hard, but they seem to be getting along. Previously, they were rivals. Now they are on the same team. It’s bound to be tough.”

Miller resigned from De Beque at the end of last school year and applied for the coaching position at Plateau Valley before the decision was made for the De Beque girls to join the Plateau Valley program.

De Beque Athletic Director Rod Graham, a De Beque High School graduate, said track will be the only girls sport offered this school year. Boys can participate in basketball and track this year.

“We waited until the last minute on deciding about the girls basketball program,” Graham said. “When the doctor said one of our girls can’t go because of a broken foot, we started working with Plateau Valley to give the girls an opportunity.”

Graham, a retired Colorado Department of Transportation employee, took over as the athletic director and boys basketball coach this year. He served on the Board of Education for 16 years and coached several sports, including pee wee basketball for 28 years. He has been involved in De Beque athletics in some capacity since 1978.

The Dragons had several successful programs over the years. At one time, De Beque had a baseball program in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Graham said.

Former athletic director and girls basketball coach Scott Rienks led the De Beque girls basketball team to 12 consecutive state tournament appearances in his 14 years. He was there when the school re-started its football program, for the first time since 1935, in 2003. The program, though, lasted only four years and was dropped because of a lack of players. There are four boys in the school playing football at Plateau Valley this year.

“I think some of the downfall came when we started our own football program,” Rienks said. “It hurt both programs. That probably should’ve never happened. Both programs suffered.”

Rienks started to see the enrollment dwindling and left after the 2005-06 school year. He led the Paonia girls basketball team to the Class 2A state title last season.

De Beque might not have volleyball or girls basketball any time soon.

Lucas is anticipating an enrollment of 110 for Kindergarten through 12th grades next year. There are 18 students in the seventh and eighth grades this year. Of those 18, three are girls.

With more pending state budget cuts and a couple of amendments on the November ballot, the future of the school could be in danger.

“A lot of factors play into the decision,” Lucas said. “We’ll know more after the November elections with Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101. It will be extremely difficult if 60, 61 and 101 pass.

“There is a chance we many not have a K through 12 program. Our goal is to keep it going as long as we can, but there are so many factors that play in the decision.”

There are several reasons for the lower enrollment numbers, specifically the economy.

“When the oil and gas boom hit, there was no place to live in De Beque,” Graham said. “A lot of families here live in rural areas on ranches. It’s vice versa now. The small ranches and farms went away when the oil companies bought land.

“There are a lot of vacant places in town. If the oil and gas companies don’t come back, all we’ll have here are the hunting lodges. They employ the most people. The future is in jeopardy.”


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