Paonia’s storied academic and athletic history will never cease to exist, but it must begin anew as a joint venture into the future with another community that too, has lost its original identity that began in the 1920s. Make no mistake about North Fork High School’s destiny, together, Hotchkiss and Paonia student-athletes will make more history together than they could have separated.
With a bright future ahead, the closing of the final chapter of two schools will bring excitement both on and off the athletic fields and in the classroom.
Paonia’s track and field athletes have contributed much to the sport. Brian Mitchem has 18 years of experience in coaching track and has Josh Burns (mid and long distance relays) and Sue Poulos (throws) who have three-plus and 10-plus years of experience respectively.
The Eagles are expecting 34 athletes (17 boys, 17 girls) to be on the track roster when competition begins early in May. At this point Mitchem notes there are nine freshmen, five sophomores, 11 juniors and nine seniors on the current roster.
Returning players on the boys side of Paonia’s track roster include Simon Cox, Noah McDaniel and Alejandro Garcia who were relay team members at state two years ago. Alyster Birk had great success as a cross country runner for the Eagles and is looking to make his mark in track this season. Junior Matthew Kasper returns to the oval and is expected to do well in the 110 hurdles and long jump.
For the girls, there are a number of athletes who competed and placed at state in 2019. Ceylon Carter, Tawny Roberts and Abby LaBounty were 4x800 relay team members. Carter and Roberts were also 800M qualifiers.
Others who have experience include Sadie Lee (4x400 relay and a 300H qualifier) and Lauryn Kiefer placed in discus with Addi Neal a part of the spring relay qualifiers.
There are a few newcomers that Mitchem and his staff are anxious to watch. Payton Fister, Leia Ellenberger and Delilah Vasquez have already made their marks on the Paonia basketball and volleyball courts. This will be the first year for them as track competitors for the Eagles in high school.
If there is good news in this year of COVID, the fact the top 18 qualifying system is still intact and there won’t be any restrictions in the number of teams or competitors at meets. A slight concern has Mitchem’s thoughts and that deals with the short time to prepare for the season. “Not a lot of time to get in track shape, but most of the kids have either been doing soccer or volleyball or running on their own,” quoted Mitchem.
As for his goals for the season ... ”I’m not really sure. For seniors, help them enjoy their last high school track season, so we have a short and steep learning curve. Have fun, get better and see what happens. The new North Fork High School will be getting some great young kids,” stated Mitchem.
Mitchem’s final remarks reflect the feelings of many. “Overall, this is kind of a bittersweet season. The last year for PHS and track is the last sport standing. I am honored to have been able to have been the head coach here for these many years. Lots of great memories. My personal thank you to all student-athletes and coaches that I have had the pleasure to work with over the years. You’ve made it so worthwhile. And to Coach Rienks — Thank you for all of your support and wisdom through these years. You’ve made such a tremendous impact on my coaching career.”