NEDERLAND — Once dwindling enrollment and athletics participation numbers made it clear that the school could not sustain multiple boys sports during the fall, Nederland Senior High School officially decided in January to scrap its struggling 8-man football program.
The Nederland administration chose to alternatively start a boys soccer program, which the school believed would be more sustainable in part because of a greater ability to draw on local feeder programs and also in part because a committee recommended the change. It wasn't an easy decision. Like most difficult decisions, not everyone was happy with the outcome.
Based on the results so far, the Nederland administration believes it made the correct choice in the interest of its student-athletes.
"I think it's been good," Nederland athletic director Rick Elertson said. "There are obviously kids who wanted to play football who now aren't doing anything and that's not good. But we have a lot of guys out for soccer, we have an enthusiastic coach and we've won a couple games. It's going well so far and we're looking forward to building the program in the future."
Two of the nine Nederland students that played football last season — Adler Mueller and Cooper Nielsen — are on the Panthers' boys soccer roster this fall. Afforded the option since their school no longer offers their chosen sport, three Nederland seniors elected to spend their final prep seasons playing football at Boulder High, a nearby Boulder Valley School District school.
In total, Elertson said the Nederland soccer program had roughly 20 kids sign up to play soccer in 2018. He believes that number to be encouraging given the school's size and enrollment of around 300, and the program's first-year status.
In terms of on-field results, the Panthers have scored eight goals this season and are off to a 2-5 record.
Alberto Gonzalez, who has a bachelor's degree in physical education and has coached soccer in his native Spain and high school soccer in Texas, has been tasked with coaching the Panthers in their inaugural season. Gonzalez is also a Spanish teacher at Nederland.
The season has been an eventful one in many ways, with a scheduling miscommunication leading to a Campion Academy team traveling an hour and a half to Nederland on Monday only to find that it had no team to play. But having expected some hiccups from its fledgling boys soccer program early on, Gonzalez for certain is looking at the big picture and trying to position the Panthers for success in future seasons.
"I feel really good about it," Gonzalez said. "It's new and my idea from the beginning was to build the team for the future. These guys are working to prepare and practice hard to have a strong team in a few years. We'll continue to work hard to improve all year, compete against other teams and respect everybody. We may win, we may lose, but the most important thing is that we continue to improve."
The Panthers are scheduled to play again on Oct. 2 at home against Lake County.