School begins new season without Ken Soper
By Bobby Abplanalp
Journal Sports Editor
DOVE CREEK It was a late August Friday night under the lights in Dove Creek.
A familiar setting with the stands full of Bulldog blue and yellow and the Dove Creek eight-man football team running over, through and around its opposition.
It was like any other opening night of high school football in the self-proclaimed pinto bean capital.
Except, one thing was different. The man who roamed the Bulldogs sidelines for 50 years wasnt on the grass. For the first time in a half a century, Ken Soper watched the Bulldogs as a fan.
A new era of Bulldogs football was unleashed on the gridiron under new head coach Shane Baughman.
Although the coaching is different, Dove Creek football still remains successful. The Bulldogs thrashed the Rangely Panthers 64-36 Friday night.
A town of roughly 500 people remains divided over the Dolores County School Boards decision to vote out 74-year-old Soper as football coach. The legendary coach led the Bulldogs for 47 years (he was an assistant for three years prior) and was two wins shy of breaking the all-time Colorado state record for victories.
Whats done is done and while many Dove Creek residents dont agree with the decision, many people seem to have accepted the change.
Its about the kids and Ive said that from the get-go, said Baughman, who assisted Soper for 10 years and is also the schools head wrestling coach. I dont care who their coach is or whatever. I just want it to be about them, and if everybody can come out and support them, thats who this is ultimately about.
Shanes son, Cole, is a senior running back on the team and played three years for Soper.
Weve been pretty fired up with the whole change and everything, Cole Baughman said. Coach Soper was awesome, but change is never a bad thing. Were all just pretty psyched to see what we can do.
Brennan Banks, 26, played four years of football for Soper and wrestled for four years under Baughman at DCHS before graduating in 2005. Banks is now the home play-by-play announcer for Bulldog football. Like many, he was torn and brokenhearted by the school boards decision.
However, Banks is satisfied with the new direction of the program.
I think its something people need to start moving on from, he said. No one can take away from Mr. Soper, what he did. Hell always be Mr. Soper to me. Hes a great coach. I have the utmost respect for him, but at this point, all its doing is hurting the kids. I do think its time to move on and as you can see, theyve done a great job.
There is an off-and-on effort to form a recall of the school board among Soper supporters in Dove Creek. Such a recall could cost the school district thousands of dollars.
Im just glad they didnt do a recall. It would have cost our school district a lot of money, said Scott Hemphill, 45, who was born and raised in Dove Creek, and has raised his son, Rodney, in Dove Creek. I think we should just go ahead and go on, and accept our coach that we got and give him our support.
Josh Hankins and his uncle Bruce Hankins are assistant coaches on the football team. Josh Hankins is also on the school board and Bruce Hankins is the school districts superintendent.
Sometimes, they say change is good. Right now, we just need to be supportive of what we got, said Sherry Shutt, who collects admission to DCHS sporting events as a volunteer. The whole situation is bad and it just needs to be done. Im related to half the town of Dove Creek and it is a big, divided situation. I just wish the team good luck and I hope it all works out for all of them.
Ultimately, it is about the kids and the soft-spoken Soper will be the first to admit that. He was an educator in the Dolores County school system from the John F. Kennedy administration all the way to George W. Bush era. Whether or not the veteran coach will hang up his football whistle for good, that ultimately remains to be seen.
For now, DCHS moves on.
If Mr. Soper returns to the gridiron sidelines, it wont be as a Bulldog.