Summit athletes brave long miles and new faces to pursue dance and softball
October 7, 2016
Ally Bierbaum knows exactly what's at stake on the softball diamond today.
When the Summit County native and her teammates with Evergreen High School take to the dirt at Lutz Field in Arvada, they'll face two tough teams — Basalt (15-2) and Faith Christian (9-8) — with Evergreen's 9-8 season on the line. If the Evergreen Cougars win even one game, chances are good the senior and her squad will earn a postseason berth — just in time for the final stretch of her high school softball career.
"I've been on a lot of losing teams in my day, so this is kind of nice," said Bierbaum, a 17-year-old second baseman who makes the near-daily commute from her hometown to Evergreen for practice and play. "We're coming together really well as a team and we have four seniors that work well together. One thing we're really good at is never giving up and that's helped us in a lot of our games."
A trip to the postseason would be a dream come true for Bierbaum. At 5 years old, she started playing baseball when she was the only girl on the local team, in part because her dad was the coach, but mostly because she grew up surrounded by baseball culture.
"He loves baseball," Bierbaum said of her dad, Karl. "He didn't care if it was a boy or a girl, his kids were going to play."
Young Bierbaum didn't mind. She switched from baseball to softball at 12 years old and played with a Summit team for one season before the program folded. There are dozens of reasons why youth softball didn't survive in Colorado ski country — low interest, low funding, the unpredictably short season — but she wasn't ready to call it quits. At 13 years old, she started traveling to Golden for a club team, and soon enough she found a home with the Evergreen varsity squad.
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"I really love the game," said Bierbaum, who drives 55 miles one-way from Summit to Evergreen up to four times per week in the fall, spring and summer. "It's cool and different from other sports, and the girls on the Evergreen team are fantastic. They treat me like I'm from there. I couldn't have asked for a better team."
Bierbaum is hardly alone. At Summit High, long commutes are a guarantee for sports teams: ask just about any senior for their favorite memory off the field and they'll point to a bus ride.
Travel might be a given for mountain teams, but Bierbaum and a small collection of fellow athletes don't get the chance to play for their home school and share those long, rowdy bus rides. Instead, they drive solo or with small groups to schools and facilities across the state to pursue their passion.
"I'm going to Evergreen or Denver or Aurora — it's a lot of travel time — but it's worth it," Bierbaum said. "I've been able to stay on top of school at the same time."
Softball was cut from the high school roster more than a decade ago, long before Bierbaum was old enough for varsity, followed by gymnastics and boy's swimming in 2010, and cheerleading in 2012. Sports like rugby, mountain biking and ice hockey are organized at the club level and have no official ties to the school — they simply share a name and a mascot.
Like Bierbaum, fellow Summit High senior Megan Kidd puts hours and energy into a sport with no high school team. She's a dancer at heart, the type who spends four nights per week at Alpine Dance Academy in Frisco perfecting group dances with a small cadre of teens.
"I really loved the way I could express myself through dancing," said Kidd, who took her first class at 3 years old. "I also loved the people I was dancing with and the teachers. I tried gymnastics for a little, but I decided that dance was my thing. I wanted to keep with it."
Traveling isn't as common for Kidd — she and the team drive to Denver two or three times per season for weekend competitions — but the commitment is just as intense. In November, she heads to Westminster for the annual L.A. Dance Magic convention and competition. It's a full weekend of workshops and performances, from 7 a.m. on Saturday to 7 p.m. on Sunday, and, like all of her judged performances, it's held more than 1.5 hours away from home.
"I've had times when I thought, 'I'm so stressed with school and other things, I can't,'" Kidd said. "But dance has always been a good way to relieve that stress. It's a good way to get away from my regular life."
No team, no problem
Over the past 15 years, Kidd has fallen in love with tap and hip-hop. They're her favorite styles, and even though she doesn't get to dance or cheer for a Tigers squad, she might not want to in the first place.
"It doesn't seem like there's as much creativity with the dance styles," Kidd said when asked about joining a poms or cheerleading team. "It's more about cheers for your team, instead of actual dance."
Bierbaum hasn't been able to play locally since she was in middle school, but she feels like there would be interest in a high school softball team — if one existed. She points to varsity baseball, which is relatively small but still manages to field a team with no home games due to snow.
"It would be really nice if we had a team," said Bierbaum, who took a summer off from play and travel in middle school when she was burnt out. "I think a lot of girls would be interested, but it's not an option so there isn't much interest. It's hard in a mountain town, but they made it happen with baseball, where they have teams here that go to Denver to play."
For now, though, Bierbaum has found a home with the Evergreen team. The only thing remaining: two big wins to cap off the regular season.
"I realized I missed the program, missed the girls, missed the game," Bierbaum said of her summer away. "I'm glad I didn't give it up then because it's had a huge impact on me."
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