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Durango High School adding ice hockey and esports

DHS hoping to get more students involved in extracurricular activities
Durango goalie Evan Brock stops an Albuquerque Bears shot last season at the Chapman Hill Ice Rink. The team won the Rio Grande High School League last year, but will be a sanctioned Colorado High School Activities Association team beginning this winter (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Students looking for an extracurricular activity will have a couple new options this year at Durango High School.

The high school will now offer ice hockey as a CHSAA-sanctioned sport this winter as well as esports as a sanctioned activity in fall and spring.

“We’re exciting about adding both programs,” said district Athletic Director Ryan Knorr.

Durango has fielded a high school ice hockey team in the past, but the Durango Area Youth Hockey Association has operated the club team separate from the high school. Previously, the Demons competed in the Rio Grande High School League with teams from New Mexico, Texas and Colorado, including rival Telluride. Durango won the league title last year. The previous season was canceled because of the pandemic, but Durango won the league title the season before that as well.

Eli Holden of Durango competes against the New Mexico Cougars last season at Chapman Hill Ice Rink. Beginning this year, ice hockey will be a CHSAA-sanctioned sport at DHS. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“They have a need for some high-quality competition,” Knorr said. “It’s something they were looking for and something CHSAA can do.”

Knorr said the Durango Area Youth Hockey League approached him about adding the sport. They teamed up to build a budget so the school district wouldn’t have to take on too many extra costs. Knorr then talked with Durango District 9-R Superintendent Karen Cheser about providing transportation, plus other details, for the team.

“Everybody has been really supportive turning this idea into a reality,” Knorr said. He said the district will help the team with transportation and coaches while the club will continue helping with logistics and take on some of the costs.

“We’ll have to lean on (DAYHA) financially,” Knorr said. “They’ve been really supportive. The way the club was run and organized and the community involvement showed us what it can do for the high school.”

Knorr said he is finalizing some details, including which league Durango will play in, but it looks like DHS will be part of the Mountain League, which includes the teams on Colorado’s Western Slope. Knorr also said he hopes to post the coaching job announcement soon.

Ice hockey is one of the newer sports sanctioned by CHSAA, and it added a second division a couple of years ago, so now teams can compete in Class 4A or Class 5A.

Cheyenne Mountain beat Colorado Academy for the Class 4A state title last year while Denver East topped Valor Christian for the 5A crown. East then went on to capture the Division II national title with a 4-2 win over the Northport (New York) Huntington Tigers in the 2022 Chipotle-USA Hockey High School National Championships.

“I think the spotlight will be on Colorado hockey after that,” Knorr said. “I’m just excited to take the momentum the club has built and allow the students to be represented through CHSAA.”

Super Smash Bros Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch platform is one of the games Colorado’s esports teams compete in.
DHS students will have an option to compete in video games

By adding esports, Knorr said the district is hoping to get more students involved in activities.

“We’re adding it to engage with students who otherwise wouldn’t be involved in athletics or extracurricular activities to get them more involved with the high school,” Knorr said. “Finding opportunities for all of our students is the goal of adding esports.”

In spring 2021, 73 teams competed in esports in Colorado. Last spring, which was the first year esports was an officially sanctioned activity, the number increased to 101.

Knorr said he sent out a survey, and 13 students said they were interested in participating in esports. He expects that number to grow.

Esports is a coed activity, and students compete in games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate on Nintendo Switch and Rocket League on PCs.

For esports, DHS will use the computer lab that AP students currently use for a programming class. Knorr said they had to make “minimal upgrades” to the computers so they could be used. The state championships were held in person last spring, but the rest of the competitions take place online. Travel will be minimal.

The company that provides that platform for the teams to compete against one another is called Versus. Knorr said they received a Nintendo Switch bundle by joining Versus.

Adding esports also conforms with the superintendent’s larger goal of having DHS on the cutting edge of technology and innovation, Knorr said.

Knorr also said there are a lot of college scholarships available in gaming while career paths in the field are also booming.

After Knorr hires a boys soccer coach to replace Aaron Champenoy, who took a college coaching job at Montana State University Billings, he said finding a esports coach is next on his list.

“Since its new, I’m hoping a teacher or staff member in the building will run it,” Knorr said.

“The future of esports in Colorado is bright,” said Rashaan Davis, CHSAA assistant commissioner who oversees esports in a press release. “We continue to talk with school district leaders and building administrators across the state to help them implement esports in their schools. My short-term goal is to have esports teams in more than half of Colorado’s high schools, with the long-term goal being to have every high school fielding an esports team.

“I know that sounds optimistic. But the growth of this activity at the state and national level, the different titles offered, and the fact that this is an activity for just about every student on campus speaks to where I see this activity going.”