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COLUMN: A Strong Competitive Advantage

St. Vrain Valley Schools celebrate two 2020 olympic alumni
3. A Strong Competitve Advantage - Photo
Olympian Elise Cranny is honored at Niwot High School’s 2021 Homecoming game.

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There are few athletic accomplishments that carry the prestige of being an Olympian. The time we spend watching these athletes perform is often brief. Whether it’s the ten seconds it takes to sprint the 100 meters, or the grueling two days and ten events of the decathlon, what the audience sees pales in comparison to the thousands of hours of work these athletes put in behind the scenes in the four (or five) year build up to the games themselves.

St. Vrain Valley Schools can proudly boast not one, but two 2020 Olympians in Stanford graduates Valarie Allman and Elise Cranny. Cranny, a Niwot High School alum, qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Games after winning the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She placed 13th in the final of that event in Tokyo. Sandy Cranny, Elise’s mother, said, “taking AP classes, being a part of a good athletics program, having good mentors, and learning to balance school and athletics” helped prepare Elise for postsecondary academics and athletics. Sandy said that the challenging courses led to more discipline and organization, and that the course load was enough to build habits that carried into college. “If you have a passion for both, you can do it. There is no reason you can’t combine sports and academics, and it is better to be balanced. Never sell yourself short,” Sandy remarked.

Allman, a Silver Creek High School graduate, won gold in women’s discus at this summer’s Olympic games, breaking an American record with her 71.16m throw in the process. She is only the third American woman to win gold at the Olympics in discus. Allman also holds the Colorado state high school record in the event, a record she broke in 2013 while still at Silver Creek. In an August interview with a local news station, Allman said, “I had never felt the weight of the pressure and the weight of expectation like I had in those days leading up to it. Now, looking back, it honestly kind of feels like a dream. You know, so much work went into preparing for that moment.”

These two outstanding competitors are keeping the district’s longstanding tradition of Olympic success going. In fact, the only person to win a gold medal in different events at both the summer and winter Olympics, Eddie Eagan, attended Longmont High School. Eagan won gold in boxing at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, competing in the light-heavyweight division. Eagan completed his remarkable achievement 12 years later at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, winning gold as part of a four man bobsled team.

Eagan is just one of a number of Longmont High School alums that have garnered attention on the national stage for their athletic accomplishments. Greg Biekert, a Longs Peak Middle and Longmont High School alum, played ten seasons as a linebacker in the NFL for the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, and the Minnesota Vikings. Another Longmont High graduate, David Pauley, pitched for the Boston Red Rox, Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Toronto Blue Jays across parts of six MLB seasons from 2006 to 2012. Longtime award winning ESPN reporter Ed Werder has contributed to SportsCenter, Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown, and NFL Live during his career. He graduated from Longmont High in 1978.

Longmont High can now count an NBA draft pick among its already robust collection of sports professionals. Justinian Jessup was drafted 51st overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 2020 NBA Draft, and has been playing professionally for the Illawarra Hawks in Australia’s NBL while awaiting his call up to the Warriors.

Lyons Middle Senior High School has also seen its fair share of athletes shine on the national stage. Leister Bowling won three state championships competing in wrestling for Lyons, finishing his high school career with a record of 154-2. He then competed for Dana College, being named an NAIA All American three times and finishing as the NAIA runner up once. Bowling now coaches wrestling and has worked with a number of professional mixed martial artists, including former UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.

Paul Roberts was a Division II All American at Colorado State University Pueblo before capping off a stellar collegiate career at the University of Wyoming, where he was a Cross Country All American and the Mountain West Cross Country Athlete of the Year. His older sister, Miriam Roberts had an outstanding career at Colorado State University Pueblo as well, garnering DII All American honors.

St. Vrain Valley Schools alumni have excelled outside the realm of traditional athletics, too. Trent Nitta, a 2021 graduate of St. Vrain Virtual High School, has competed for the U.S. National paintballing team and is playing semi-professionally for the New England Hurricanes.

Nitta gave advice to younger players in an online interview, saying, “It is also important to surround yourself with a support system. I have been lucky to have the support of so many people – family, people I met in the sport and now call close friends, pro players, coaches, and scouts. Having these relationships is priceless.”

This trend of St. Vrain Valley Schools alumni shining in less traditional sports continues with Lyons Middle Senior High alum Katie Fankhouser, a freestyle kayaker who has represented the USA in under-18 competitions. After becoming the national junior freestyle white water kayaking champion, she placed third at the 2019 World Championships in Spain.

Trevor Smith, a Niwot High School alum now studying mechanical engineering at University of Colorado Boulder, placed third in the U.S. Paraclimbing team in 2018, qualifying for World Championships. He then won a silver medal at the 2018 IFSC Paraclimbing World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria.

These St. Vrain Valley Schools alumni and many more serve as inspiration for the current crop of superb students representing the district with academic and athletic excellence. The lessons in perseverance, sportsmanship, teamwork, and competitiveness drive St. Vrain Valley Schools students to excel in sports and beyond.

Lyons Middle Senior High Principal Andrea Smith said, “In St. Vrain, we value student engagement and participation in athletics as a part of overall academic achievement. Students who are engaged in athletics and activities learn invaluable skills around time management, organization, and commitment to excellence. By valuing student engagement and participation, we have created opportunities for our students to excel both inside and outside the classroom and have shown that we are a system that truly supports these students in taking on these amazing opportunities.”