During a year that will be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties that it caused, numerous athletes across Montezuma and Dolores counties delivered big-time highlights and thrilled fans with outstanding performances.
Among those that will not be forgotten include the young men from Dove Creek who took their school’s football team to the Colorado semifinals for the first time in 29 years and the young baseball players who played on after their high school season was canceled.
Also sure to be remembered will be a 1,000-point scorer on the basketball court, a young man who broke the state record for career double-doubles, one of the finest prep golfers in area history, an up-and-coming rodeo star and the young race car drivers who never failed to impress.
Below are the top stories from the previous year, which, without a doubt, will not soon be forgotten.
Carrying the hopes and dreams of a small farming community on their shoulders, members of the Dove Creek High School football team played with heart and exceeded expectations throughout a season that culminated with the team’s first trip to the state semifinals in 29 years.
“This group of kids is neat,” said head coach Shane Baughman shortly after his team closed out its season with a 46-4 loss to five-time defending state champion Sedgwick County. “They are well-behaved young men in the classroom and on the field, and all that translates. They are respectful everywhere we go, and they are just gentlemen.”
Among the standout players on the Bulldogs squad were seniors Hayden Gray, Gage Bailey, Gauge Thompson and Austin Beanland, who combined to form a dynamic offense and stellar defense that helped their team finish 5-2 on the year.
“It meant everything to our town as a whole,” said Beanland, when asked about his team’s playoff run. “We pursued our dreams, and we believed in ourselves. I’m going to remember that bond that we had with each other. We never wanted to give up and quit.”
Utilizing a beautiful swing honed during countless practice rounds at his home Conquistador Golf Course, Montezuma-Cortez High School sophomore Thayer Plewe turned in an excellent season that ended with a second-place finish in the Class 3A State Golf Championship.
Not only was Plewe’s top finish the second best in his school’s history, but it represented the first time that a Panthers golfer had placed in the top three in state since M-CHS standout Shea Sena captured top honors in 2002.
Thanks to his finish at the state tournament and an outstanding regular season, Plewe was named Intermountain League player of the year and first-team all-state for the 3A classification.
“This has been a great season for me as a player to see every aspect of my game, especially in these pressure situations,” Plewe said. “I still have a lot of work to do. You can never be perfect in golf. Going into my junior and senior years, it’s going to take sweat, blood and tears putting in the work so I can push even more for state next year.”
Entering his senior season already known as one of the finest players in his school’s history, Mancos High School senior Caden Showalter etched his name in the state record books by breaking Sam Howard’s record for doubles-doubles in a career.
In addition to registering 58 double-doubles during his four years in a Bluejays uniform, Showalter helped his team win a regional championship and qualify for state as a junior and was named Intermountain League Player of the Year as a senior.
An all-conference selection in each of his four years, Showalter, also made multiple all-state teams, won Class 2A state championships in the shot put and discus during his junior year, and excelled as a leader in his school and his community.
“I would say, ‘Follow your passion,’” said Showalter, when asked what message he would send to young people who looked up to him during his storied career. “You’re only young once, and if you want to be great at something, find something that you love and stick with it.”
Determined to continue playing after the Colorado High School Activities Association canceled the 2020 baseball season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montezuma-Cortez High School manager Tim Passell gathered a group of his players together and formed a club team.
Known as the Cortez Freedom Cats, Passell’s team competed in several games and in a wood bat baseball tournament throughout the summer while focusing on the mental aspects of the game, building team chemistry and honing their skills on the diamond.
Thanks in part to the opportunities provided by the Freedom Cats, M-CHS first baseman Korie Likes signed a letter of intent to compete at Dordt University next year, and a few other local players attracted the interest of college programs.
“It’s important for these kids to keep some sense of normalcy during this pandemic,” Passell said. “It’s tough for these kids – a lot of them lost their spring season, and it was really important for us to get going this summer.”
Bolstered by sound promoting and racetrack closures around the country, Fairgrounds Speedway in Cortez enjoyed its most successful summer in recent memory while thrilling onlookers with hotly contested races and a popular youth division open to preteen and teen drivers.
Among the more than a dozen youth drivers who competed in Sport Compact cars and Mini-Sprint cars was Mancos resident Waylon Hale, whose ability to weave in and out of traffic and finish at the front of races consistently brought fans to their feet.
“When you reach (upward of 90 mph), you don’t think about anything,” said Hale. “You just keep your eyes on the track.”
“One of the great things (race promotor) Gene Williams has done is that he’s started this youth compact class,” veteran Cortez driver Tony Hill added. “This year, it has grown faster than any other class that we’ve had. What’s good is that it’s bringing younger blood into our sport.”
Playing in front of a large contingency of fans that showed up to see her make history, Dove Creek High School’s Grace Hatfield scored the 1,000th point of her legendary three-year high school career.
While the 1,000-point milestone represented a significant accomplishment for the junior shooting guard, she eagerly expressed that her thirst for accomplishments on the hardwood was by no means quenched several months removed from her final high school season.
“I’ve been wanting this forever,” said Hatfield, who averaged 20.5 points per game over the course of the year and helped her team finish with an 18-4 record overall. “I go the gym almost every single day. On the weekends, if there is no practice, I go the gym. I never get a day off. I’m always working.”
Providing a fitting conclusion to their storied high school athletic careers, four of Montezuma County’s finest prep athletes in recent memory inked their names to letters of intent to compete in athletics at the college level.
Among those who signed were M-CHS multisport star Titus Jackson, who will compete in hurdles as a member of the Western Colorado University track team, and Mancos multisport star Caden Showalter, who will look to win discus and shot put events for University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
Emerging as a rare college baseball signee from the local area was M-CHS first baseman and Dordt University commit Korie Likes, while M-CHS shooting guard Teagan Whiteskunk inked a letter to compete on the hardwood for Midland University.
“The thought of playing college baseball is the fuel I’ve had since I was a kid,” Likes said prior to his signing ceremony. “I’ve always loved the game, and I’ve got big shoes to fill in my family. I just want to surpass everybody and be the best that I can.”
Undeterred by the challenges associated with competing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Montezuma County resident Chevelle Reed captured the hearts of local fans by qualifying for the Junior World Finals rodeo.
Showing that she belonged in one of the premiere junior rodeo events in the country, the high school rodeo star who did not begin riding seriously until middle school walked away from a scary crash unscathed and finished 15th out of 60 barrel racers.
“I am hoping to rodeo for (University of Wyoming),” said Reed, who will graduate from high school in May 2021. “I plan on rodeo being a continuous sport for me throughout my life.”
Unfazed by the COVID-19 pandemic and eager to put on a show for local fans, more than a dozen competitors arrived at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds in early August and put on a show during a rousing demolition derby.
While big-time collisions and smoking engines provided a powerful storyline for one of Montezuma County’s most popular events, so too did several Donald Trump flags and other political messages that adorned the cars of drivers that were eager to make their opinions known.
“Last year, I didn’t even paint my car, I just put numbers on it and called it good,” said Mancos resident Ted Neergaard. “This year, I was like, ‘We need to (paint) a Confederate flag with all the things going on. People need to know that history is out there. We don’t need to tear it all down and burn it, we need to learn from it.”