Paonia native and longtime Eagles’ supporter Lana Sims and her family have lived the legacy of Paonia High School athletics.
The outgoing super fan has kept detailed records over the years documenting the 23 team state championships accumulated by the Eagles.
“Yes, I’ve been here all my life,” Sims said, proud of witnessing many of Paonia’s state titles.
Baseball, she said, led the way with eight Paonia state titles (1962, 1989, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2003, 2017, 2018).
The Paonia wrestling program netted five state championships (2006, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014).
Paonia football won titles in 1959, 2013 and 2014.
The Eagles won five consecutive girls track championships from 2013-17.
And girls basketball won state championships in 2010 and 2017 for Paonia High School.
And although Paonia High School will cease to exist after this school year, the Eagles’ history will be retained when the school merges with Hotchkiss to form a new high school.
“It is a blow to the community to lose the high school,” Sims said. “But we’re struggling with the mines shutting down. We no longer have a doctor in town.”
She also remembers when Crawford lost its school in 1961. Those high school students first went to Paonia but were bused to Hotchkiss starting in the mid-1980s when the Paonia school was nearing capacity with a growing, energy-driven enrollment.
First and foremost, Sims said she doesn’t want the incredible story of Paonia’s Thurman “Fum” McGraw to be lost in the creation of a new high school.
The legendary McGraw attended Paonia High School in the 1940s, leaving school early to fight with the Marine Corps in World War II.
After the war, he attended Colorado State University (then Colorado A&M) where he became the school’s first All-American football player.
A four-year starter at CSU, McGraw went on to become NFL Rookie of the Year for the Detroit Lions. He played on the Lions’ NFL championship teams in 1952 and 1953.
He later served as a longtime administrator at CSU. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981. He also is a member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1999, the McGraw Athletic Center opened at Colorado State University.
McGraw might be one of the most prominent athletes to come from Paonia, but he’s certainly not the only one.
That 2017 year, according to Sims, is one for the Paonia history books.
The Paonia girls won the state basketball title with Sophie Anderson named the Class 2A player of the year. Scott Rienks was the state coach of the year. And Emily Pieper of the Eagles also earned all-state honors.
The Paonia girls won the state track championship in 2017 for the fifth consecutive year, becoming only the third program in Colorado history to win five in a row. Anderson won the 200 meters and the triple jump at the state meet.
Teammate Brianna Van Vleet won the long jump — for the third consecutive year.
Anderson is a starter on the Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team.
Van Vleet and her cousin Ashley Van Vleet both are competing in track and field at Idaho State University.
Sims also recalls playoff details from Paonia’s dominating football run from 2013-15. The Eagles, led by all-state quarterback Taylor Walters, won state titles in 2013 and 2014. Paonia was state runner-up in 2015.
A month ago, Sims attended the final girls basketball game between Paonia and Hotchkiss.
“It was a very emotional night,” Sims said. “After the game, the two teams gathered together for a group photo.”
Sims, who can recite all-state selections from six different decades, exudes Paonia pride as she recalls the glory days.
All three of her daughters graduated from Paonia High School. Daughter Leslie held the school record in the long jump record for 29 years.
In addition to the student-athletes, Sims said she’s equally proud of Paonia’s recent students who are now at Harvard and the Naval Academy.
“It is sad, losing the school,” Sims said. “It’s like losing a dear friend. But we’re running out of coal-mine kids and ranch kids.”