Missed opportunities, renovations and resignations round out top stories of 2011

After failing to win a bid to host a leg of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Grand Junction residents will again have to travel out of town to watch top cyclists ride.

Sean Rubalcaba and the Grand Junction football team were one of several Western Slope teams to make deep playoff runs.

Joe Ramunno walked the sidelines at Colorado Mesa for 14 seasons before resigning in November. He finished 80-77 as the Mavs’ coach.

When the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was announced, a bunch of interest was stirred around the state.

There was a lot of interest, curiosity and uncertainty about the event as communities put together a bid to host the inaugural event in 2011.

Grand Junction held off putting in a bid for 2011, but a local organizing group formed and quickly got involved in trying to lure a stage of the race for 2012. It is the Sentinel’s No. 2 story of 2011 as voted on by the Sentinel staff.

Their efforts were unsuccessful, in large part because racing on Colorado National Monument was not a part of the bid, said Scott Mercier, chairman of the Grand Junction committee.

“I still think we’ll get it in the future, but the reason we didn’t get it this year is primarily because of the monument,” Mercier said.

The race will include stops in 12 cities, including Durango, Telluride, Montrose, Crested Butte, Gunnison and Aspen on the Western Slope. It is scheduled for Aug. 20-26, 2012.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge Chief Executive Officer Shawn Hunter said Grand Junction put in a strong bid and will be considered for future races whether it includes the monument or not.

The inaugural race in August 2011 drew more than 1 million spectators and created an $83.5 million economic boost, according to analysis by race organizer Medalist Sports.

— Allen Gemaehlich

No. 3: Lincoln Park Sports Complex Renovation

Drive by the corner of 12th and North and you can’t miss it, the ever-changing look of the towers between the football and baseball fields in Lincoln Park.

An $8.3 million upgrade of the stadium changes not only daily, but hourly. The 80-foot-tall towers house stairwells and an elevator and from there come new east stands for the football stadium and first-base seats for the baseball field.

Fans will enter the stadium through a concourse, passing concession areas and new restrooms. Above are three levels, the lowest an open-air handicap accessible level for both sports. That level will feature room for 50 fans in wheelchairs, plus companions.

The elevator will take fans to that level, as well as above to the new dual-sided press box and, on the top level, a hospitality level with room for 100 to watch football, baseball games, or any event at the park.

The project was spearheaded by Grand Junction Baseball Inc., which runs the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series. JUCO is on the hook for $300,000 a year over the next 25 years to pay off $7.5 million in bonds issued by the city of Grand Junction.

JUCO Chairman Jamie Hamilton secured a 25-year extension with the NJCAA to keep the junior college national championship in Grand Junction, with tournament proceeds helping to pay off the debt, along with grants and other donations. He made the first payment in early December.

The project is scheduled to be completed before high school and Colorado Mesa graduations in early May.

— Patti Arnold

No. 4: CMU football coach Joe Ramunno resigns

For the first time in more than two decades, Joe Ramunno may not be on a football sideline.

The Colorado Mesa coach resigned in November after 14 seasons. He was the second-longest tenured football coach in the institution’s history and won more games than any coach in the program’s history (80-77).

“It was a tough decision,” Mesa Athletic Director Butch Miller told The Daily Sentinel. “Joe handled it like he handles everything, with a lot of class. ... The last couple of years have been hard on everybody and hard on Joe. He’s the most competitive guy I know. He will be hard to replace.”

Ramunno could not be reached for comment, but in a release issued by the athletic department said “It has been an honor and privilege to coach so many incredible young men, who have worked so hard and with such class. I will truly miss them.

“I will miss the fine faculty and staff, students and my fellow coaches down the hallway. Every coach here has the right perspective and their first priority is the kids and their well-being.”

Under Ramunno, the Mavericks had six winning seasons, won two RMAC titles, made three NCAA playoff appearances and were the first RMAC team to win an NCAA Division II playoff game.

However, the Mavericks finished below .500 for the third consecutive season (4-7, 3-6 RMAC) and went 31-45 the past eight seasons.

Associate head coach Shawn Marsh is the interim head coach.

Colorado Mesa is in the midst of interviews to replace Ramunno. Miller told The Daily Sentinel they hope to have one hired by the time the students return for the spring semester.

— Allen Gemaehlich

No. 5: High school football playoffs

Grand Junction, Palisade, Hotchkiss, Rifle and Olathe made sure the Grand Valley was well-represented in high school football, all making state-championship runs.

Palisade had its first postseason win since 2007 and made it to the semifinals before losing to Silver Creek. The Bulldogs (10-3), well-known as undersized, used their raw toughness to finish third in the final Denver Post Class 3A media poll.

Grand Junction (11-1) was No. 1 in the poll for several weeks, but was upset by Lakewood in the Class 5A quarterfinals. Still, the Tigers had three Denver Post all-state players in Austin Berk, Jerreon Dennis and Sean Rubalcaba, who also was selected the Post’s Gold Helmet Award Winner for the state’s top athlete, student and citizen.

Hotchkiss also had not lost until the state playoffs, bowing out to Wiggins in the semifinals. Hotchkiss was seeded No. 2 in the tournament and had won all its games by more than three touchdowns until it faced No. 11 Wiggins.

Rifle was the Western Slope League champion and went undefeated in the regular season before losing to eventual state champion Windsor in the state quarterfinals.

Olathe also made a run in 2A, losing in the quarterfinals to Brush.

— Nick Walter


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