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New football leagues take it too far

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The conference names are majestic, but the new league alignment that will apparently be approved for Class 5A football teams has left many observers with altitude sickness.

For the 2016-17 cycle, the Colorado High School Activities Association football committee has proposed reducing the 5A football playoffs from 32 to 16 teams, which is a good idea.

However, using teams’ Ratings Percentage Index, a computer ranking, over the past two years to realign leagues has drawn a puzzled response from many coaches and athletic directors.

The “waterfall” alignments are intended to balance out leagues based on the strength of teams. But they also separate some natural geographic rivals and bring about more travel for teams.

For example, Mountain Vista and ThunderRidge — neighborhood rivals in Highlands Ranch — would no longer be in the same league. One of ThunderRidge’s new conference foes would be Northglenn, some 30 miles away.

Conferences in the 5A proposal are named after Colorado’s 14ers, like Mount Elbert and Mount Evans. They are great monikers, but I still liked the way teams were aligned in the former Centennial, Continental and 5A Jefferson County leagues.

The CHSAA Legislative Council is expected to approve the new conference alignments on Jan. 28.

The council determines rules, and its 75 members represent all athletic conferences along with delegates from the Colorado Association of School Boards, Colorado Athletic Directors Association and Colorado Association of Secondary School Administrators. The football committee proposal is one of 10 reports that will likely be approved.

The claim of the football committee with its Class 5A waterfall conference proposal is that travel will be along the I-25 corridor and be no longer than two hours since there are no Grand Junction schools. The proposed Class 4A waterfall league lineup is based on geography.

Sounds good, but it seems like interest and gate receipts could be affected when Cherry Creek plays teams like Prairie View in Henderson or Grandview travels to Doherty and Pomona faces Aurora Hinkley. Even in Class 4A, when Littleton has a game in Montrose.

Sure rivalry games can be scheduled as nonleague affairs, but seeing Creek vs. Valor or Douglas County vs. Castle View in league contests that add more importance than just bragging right will be lost in the new conference alignments.

She can’t stay out of the gym

Pomona basketball player Ashley Van Sickle logs long hours in the gym.

“She’s a great kid and is a very good student,” coach Jeff Gomer said. “She is well respected by both staff and students at the school. She is one of the best junior guards in the state and she has a really well-rounded game.

“She can pass, score and defend. The best thing about her is she is a gym rat. I have to kick her out of the gym so I can go home.”

Van Sickle is at or near the top of Jefferson County 5A statistics. She is second in scoring at 17.6 points per game, first in assists with 6.5 per game and first in steals with 5.2 a game.

The 5-foot-7 Van Sickle leads the state’s Class 5A players in steals and is tied for first in average assists. She is fifth in free throw shooting (79 percent) and sixth in 3-point shooting (42 percent).

Preseason player of the year

Colorado School of Mines senior Nate Olinger, a Pomona graduate, was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference preseason Player of the Year.

Olinger, a senior outfielder and pitcher, hit .387 last season with 19 doubles, five home runs and 36 runs batted in. He compiled a 3.71 earned-run average.

Mesa State University sophomore third baseman Trent Maloney also was named to the RMAC preseason all-league team. Maloney, a Douglas County High School grad, hit .323 with 25 RBIs last spring.

Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at jbenton@coloradocommunitymedia.com or at 303-566-4083.

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