Then there was one.
Baseball this spring will provide a foreshadowing of the consolidation of Paonia and Hotchkiss high schools.
“We’re combining baseball this spring,” said Kurt Clay, assistant superintendent of the Delta County School District. “We didn’t have enough players … in Paonia for a team this year. So we’ll combine the two so we can field a team.”
He said that by combining Hotchkiss and Paonia into a co-op baseball team, the schools will be able to sustain a full baseball program.
“Now, with both schools together, we can run a varsity, a JV and a freshman group,” said Clay, a former all-state football and basketball player at Hotchkiss High School.
He said he believes the athletes from the two schools will be able to compete together without issues.
“A lot of these kids play club sports together,” Clay said. “To compete in Grand Junction or Denver, those kids have to combine in those club sports.”
He said the athletes often join forces for club sports like soccer, basketball, baseball and even wrestling.
Clay said the ability to field freshman and junior varsity teams will help solidify the future of those sports at the new consolidated school.
Hotchkiss baseball coach Blake Carlquist, who is in his 11th year with the program, said 25 Hotchkiss players have signed up and about a dozen players from Paonia signed an interest-to-play form so far.
The two schools are also having volunteer workouts, going two days at Hotchkiss and two in Paonia, “just to try and show every kid that it’s not going to be us and them this year, it’s got to be we, and sacrifices have to be made on both ends to be successful,” Carlquist said.
Paonia High School has won more state championships in baseball than any other team sport — eight.
Paonia won state baseball championships in 1962, 1989, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2003, 2017 and 2018.
In recent years, the baseball rivalry between Paonia and Hotchkiss had flourished with both teams advancing in the playoffs.
Paonia’s 2017 state title included a dramatic 1-0 state semifinal victory over Hotchkiss when Kayden Seriani threw a no-hitter for the Eagles.
Seriani, who was a high school All-American at Paonia, was the Class 2A player of the year and the Eagles finished the season 25-0.
Nate Miller was the state coach of the year. His son, Jaden, was also on the all-state team.
One year later, Paonia went 23-2 with another state title and 11 consecutive victories to end the season.
Hotchkiss had reached the state semifinals in 2018, nearly earning the chance to play Paonia for a state championship.
But Hotchkiss, which won a state baseball championship in 1964, lost a 4-3 decision to Peyton in the semifinals.
As for this season, Carlquist acknowledged there’s always been a rivalry between the schools but he’s anticipating a lot of excitement for the team and players.
“To be completely honest, I think the 2020 season being canceled, it will really help with this transition as far as the rivalry in baseball,” he said. “Most of the kids that played the last time we played each other, they’re gone (graduated). The Hotchkiss and Paonia baseball rivalry has been a big deal for quite a few years.”
Being the first sport to consolidate makes it bigger than just baseball.
“The kids have been great, really. When we broke the news to everybody, it wasn’t presented as poor us or poor you, but this is an opportunity for this program, these kids specifically, to lead the charge in the consolidation process,” Carlquist said. “It’s bigger than baseball at this point, but we get to try to bring two communities together that are going to be forced together next year with the schools consolidating.
”That’s how we looked at it and how we presented it, that it’s something above just baseball, it’s for the entire North Fork Valley.”
With baseball setting the trend, the other sports will follow starting in the fall of 2021.
Sentinel sports reporter Patti Arnold contributed to this article.