What Summit High sports reminded us about life’s lessons this autumn
BRECKENRIDGE – You’d be surprised the life lessons you could learn from a season out on the high school sports sidelines. Here in Summit County, our high school’s sports program is often overshadowed by Olympic and World Cup glory and elite international competition venues and contests. But make no mistake: The high school athletes competing for the Tigers are the lifeblood of the future of Summit County’s sports scene. Some may one day compete in the Olympics. Others will inspire the next generation of younger Tigers. And others may one day return to give back to the sporting community or create their own slice of the Summit sports scene.
After nearly three months of practices, games and meets, here are the top three life lessons I was reminded of that Summit sports fans should takeaway from the 2019 autumn season.
The smallest Tigers can have the biggest bite
Watching the Rugby Colorado Girls 7 State Championship tournament on Sunday, it was impossible not to notice Summit junior Lily Hess’ defense out on the wing. Namely, Hess’s ferocity and form on her tackles was textbook. It made me wonder: “Who’s the best form tackler walking the Summit High hallways?” Hess for Summit’s state-championship rugby team, or Summit sophomore Aidan Collins for Tigers football?
If you asked almost any member on Summit’s football team this season, Collins was the best tackler on the team. First-year Summit head coach James Wagner shared that notion before the season started.
“The same pint-sized reserve freshman wide receiver from last season was the team’s best when it came to punctuating defensive plays?” I wondered. It was an interesting thought. Collins subsequently showed out whenever he had to make a play in open space this season, routinely wrapping up players almost twice his size, taking them down to the Tiger Stadium turf.
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The good news for Tigers sports fans is both Collins and Hess will be back with their respective teams next season, surefire stars despite their slight statures. More important, they’re an example to folks from Silverthorne to Blue River that an underdog’s bite matters more than its bark.
You can be elite in more than one thing
Do you remember “Neon Deion” Sanders, the Florida State and NFL star known as “Primetime?” Well, in the 1990s Sanders was also a star in Major League Baseball, as he split his time for a time between the Atlanta Braves baseball team and the Atlanta Falcons NFL team.
Though Sanders will be remembered to the end of American sporting time as an NFL Hall-of-Famer, in October 1992 he became history when he became the first professional athlete to play in two major professional leagues in the same day. Throughout the fall, Summit senior Max Bonenberger embraced much the same grind. For the Summit High cross-country running team, Bonenberger was one of the team’s best runners and veteran role models, leading the team to its first state-championship appearance in memory.
When Bonenberger wasn’t training with the Tigers runners, he often trained and competed with the Summit Tigers high-school-aged mountain bike team. On the cross-country trails, Bonenberger routinely challenged for race victories and podium spots with the Tigers, running as fast as 15 minutes and 44 seconds. On the mountain-bike trails, Bonenberger played a crucial role as a top racer, and point-earner, in the uber-competitive varsity boys division.
To be fair, Bonenberger isn’t the only Summit High athlete to not only dabble, but excel at different sports. His fellow senior leader on the cross country team, Jeremiah Vaille, is a fellow rising U.S. ski mountaineering athlete, along with Bonenberger, who also has competed at the highest level of snowshoeing. But Bonenberger this autumn was the only Tiger to compete at an elite level in two different official high school sports.
Beyond that, and his skimo success, Bonenberger is also planning to continue success this winter with the Tigers varsity hockey team. If that’s not enough, Bonenberger was also one of the leading scorers on Tigers varsity lacrosse last season.
In a day and age of increased single-sport specialization, Bonenberger’s multi-sport success is a refreshing reminder that even in a ski town, if you put in hard and smart work, you can play — and excel — at as many sports as you’d like.
Don’t doubt the example you can set for the future
The coolest moment of a season standing on the Tigers sideline for me came in the final football home game. As Peak School senior and Summit football captain Al Espinosa willed a young Tigers team in a freezing cold slobber-knocker versus Glenwood Springs, his young cousins cheered him on. In between plays, the young Snow Tigers threw a football back and forth, tackling and tumbling in their snow pants to the Tiger Stadium turf, envisioning they one day will star for the Tigers like their older cousin Alberto.
First-year Summit head coach James Wagner described Espinosa as precisely the young man you’d like for your young son to grow up to become. That said, Espinosa was far from the only Summit High sporting role model this autumn who exuded qualities of humble ambition, influential accountability and empathetic energy to lay the foundation for a brighter future for Tigers athletics.
In boys soccer, senior leaders like Chris Orozco and Aaron Gallo set the standard during a playoff march. Gallo embraced a position change and Orozco warriored through injuries. In the end, coach Tommy Gogolen’s side didn’t make the playoffs, but fabulous freshman like Gallo’s younger brother Owen and Fabien Cuevas saw the seniors’ example and are ready to run with it.
On the cross-country running team, Bonenberger, Vaille and the rest of head coach Heather Quarantillo’s special senior group of boys (and Grace Staberg) set an example for the future. Freshman Dom Remeikis seems poised to run with it, as he was the fastest of any freshman runner in the state this season.
On the links, the late-season consistency junior Ryley Cibula played with is something talented young players, like freshman Jackson True, can look up to. On the rugby pitch, Summit seniors like Nicole Kimball, PK Vincze and Logan Simson steadied the ship of Karl Barth’s juggernaut after historic losses. In the end, they ran over and through the competition once again, capturing their 12th straight state title.
And as for the girls volleyball program, head coach Kelly Schneweis and the Tigers’ underclassmen tearfully said goodbye to a group of eight seniors who the second-year head coach believes will be remembered as a pivotal transition class. The example they set in staying late after practice and in the weight room will be built on by younger players, including a very talented middle-school group that Schneweis is elated about.
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