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Ski team enthusiastic about season

Andy Bourelle

What is a good word to describe the Douglas High School ski team? Enthusiasm.

“It’s really great,” said Hal Starratt, one of the team’s coaches. “I really like it because the kids are so enthusiastic. It’s no challenge, really, to get them excited. They do it all by themselves, and then their excitement rubs off on me.”

Starratt and Leigh Luce, both teachers at Douglas High School, coach the team together. This is their first year coaching, but both enjoy it immensely because of the enthusiastic students.

“I like it. It’s great,” Luce said. “I can divide the season into two parts. There’s the preliminary part with all the paperwork, and then there’s the second part where the kids actually get to ski. The part with the kids is great. They’re very enthusiastic.”

The Douglas ski team has been around since the early 1980s. The team competes against Whittell, Incline, Truckee and North Tahoe. The team practices mostly just on weekends, while some of the Lake school students are able to practice daily. Also, many of the Lake students compete in the Far Western Ski Association, a non-school sponsored league.

Starratt described the skiers in Far West as “amazing,” and he said many of them go on to the Olympic level.

Starratt said Douglas has two skiers of that caliber, and despite the team’s strong competition, it did well at its first meet of the season. Another meet was scheduled Jan. 12 at Alpine Meadows but canceled because of the weather. The team has five more meets and a championship meet in March. The team’s lone home meet, at Kirkwood, is scheduled for Feb. 4.

A love for skiing is the motivation behind the 40 students that comprise the ski team.

“They like skiing. They’re competitive,” Luce said. “They like being able to compete. They like being able to improve.”

However, it isn’t all just fun and games. The students put in a lot of hard work. They go through about two months of conditioning before hitting the slopes.

“The kids have gone through a lot of rigorous exercise and training,” Starratt said. “It’s great to see it pay off.”

At the competitions, the junior varsity teams race last, when the snow is in worse shape than it was for the varsity athletes. Starratt said the junior varsity athletes have to “literally claw their way” up to varsity level, but the conditions help them become better skiers in the long run.

Being on the ski team is not just about skiing either. The coaches push academics first and help many of the students at a study table on Thursday afternoons. Some of the students are in advanced placement classes and have to miss meets because of the increased work loads.

Either way, the coaches make sure the students’ grades don’t suffer as a result of being on the ski team.

One part of the Douglas ski team which sets it apart from the other area high school teams is that Douglas’ athletes are required to wear helmets. This is the first year for the requirement, and none of the teams Douglas competes against have similar rules.

Early in the season, Starratt and Luce attended a coaches meeting with the other schools where the subject of requiring helmets came up. Starratt said most of the schools decided to take a “wait-and-see approach.” Even though Starratt and Luce are the coaching “rookies,” creating the rule at Douglas “just seemed to make sense.”

“It was really a no-brainer,” Starratt said. “Why are we doing this without helmets, when they’re available? It just seemed to me kind of silly.”

Although purchasing helmets was an added expense to the students, Alan King of Bike and Ski Sports in Minden was able to get the students a good deal.

“He was very supportive and found us a great deal,” said Starratt. “I think he must have made some sacrifices, because he got us a real, real cut rate. We are really appreciative of his support.”

What are the students’ reactions to being required to wear helmets during practice and at competitions?

“They’ve just gotten used to it right away,” Starratt said. “Not a complaint have I heard.”

Starratt and Luce said they are enjoying their inaugural year as ski coaches. As teachers, both love working with youths, and coaching is just an opportunity to continue working with students.

“I like working with kids,” Luce said. “Coaching gives me the opportunity to be around them in a setting away from school. It’s more informal and more relaxed.”

Starratt agrees.

“The kids are so positive and upbeat,” he said. “It’s a dream coaching assignment.”