By Kathryn White
Denver North High School’s athletic venues are getting a workout these days, with close to 400 students participating in 11 programs this fall.
The Vikings’ lineup includes cheer, cross country, girls flag football, boys football, boys golf, rugby, boys soccer, softball, boys tennis, ultimate frisbee, and girls volleyball.
“I like being able to play with other girls who are equally as passionate about softball. Each wanting to win, each wanting to get better as a person and as a player,” said Liliana Ruiz, softball co-captain. Sophia Vasquez, softball co-captain, added, “I personally like seeing all the competitiveness come out of everybody. And working together as a team.”
“Our goal is to have every student connected to something that interests them. A club, an activity, a sport,” said Kevin Bendjy, the school’s athletic director before recently being named district director of athletics for DPS. “Students who are connected are more likely to graduate. They have stronger friendships, a more positive school experience.”
New this year—to Colorado, DPS, and Denver North—is the girls flag football pilot program, in partnership with the Denver Broncos and NFL. Coach Val Finn is excited to be part of the first year in which flag football will be available to young women in Colorado high schools.
Finn, who already has interest from 15 students, is hoping to reach 20 before games start in mid-September. Finn’s looking forward to meeting new students and continuing to grow relationships with those she knows through her role on the school’s restorative practice team.
“It’s a learning year,” Finn said.
Boys golf team captain Sawyer Klein is focused on learning too, though it’s far from his first year on the course. Klein tied for 13th at last year’s 4A Colorado High School Athletic Association’s state championship, shooting 71-76-71 at City Park Golf Course.
“My favorite part of golf is that you can always get better,” Klein said when The Denver North Star caught up with him and his team at Willis Case Golf Course. “I’d say the sky’s the limit with golf, and you can never really reach the sky. You can always improve.”
Klein’s learned a few other things as well.
“Being team captain has taught me to be more selfless, more personable with your players, and to make sure that not only are you getting better, but the team around you is getting better,” he said. “It’s taught me that friendship and camaraderie on the team are the most important. If you don’t like your team, you’re not going to succeed.”
For Vasquez, team leadership has led to greater perseverance and patience. “Sometimes we’ll have arguments, but we all end up on the same page by the end of the day,” Vasquez said.
“You’re a leader,” Ruiz said. “You have to hold yourself to a higher expectation. To push yourself, and your teammates.”
Cross country’s new head coach Chris Aguiniga knows a few things about perseverance. Aguiniga ran cross country for Denver North all through high school, running his senior year with a team that placed fourth at the 1995 state championship.
Aguiniga shared his story with this year’s runners. His times went back and forth between second and fifth on that 1995 team, but he stayed with it and continued to run in college.
He attended North during years that also included the 1993 “Summer of Violence.” Gangs and gunfire dominated headlines across the metro area.
“Gang stuff was happening at North. There was a push for sports.” Aguiniga said. “To run for the team meant keeping my grades up. My family wasn’t big on school. Graduating from high school was big. Graduating from college was huge.”
In a sport often associated with individual performance, Aguiniga is most excited about growing the school’s running community this year. So far so good: the season began with 44 runners, including 13 firstyear students.
“I’m excited to get kids running,” he said. “And for them to see running as part of being healthy.”
Bendjy encourages neighbors to come out and watch students compete. A schedule is available online at north.dpsk12.org/north-athletics-calendar. With nearly a dozen sports underway, competitions are taking place almost every day in September and October.
“There are no COVID-19 restrictions on spectators this year,” Bendjy said, “and most events are outdoors. We’re excited to get into the season and see people back out watching games.”
Spectators should bring a chair or a blanket to sit on. Two small stands of bleachers near the main field are often full.
“North is the only DPS high school of nine that doesn’t have stadium seating yet,” said Joe DeRose, treasurer of the North Side High School Alumni Association.
DeRose, NHS class of 1966, is working with parents to change that. They’ve raised $5,000 toward $30,000 needed for three additional bleachers adjacent to the field used by the football, lacrosse, track, and soccer teams.
DeRose thinks a corporate banner on the back side of the new bleachers would deliver great sponsorship visibility for a local company.
He encourages anyone interested in supporting the project to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the online fundraising page at tinyurl.com/NorthBleachers.