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Details distinguish winners for 20th annual Whittle the Wood

When in doubt, stick to the animal kingdom, blockbuster movies and children’s literature.

The winners of the 20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous were named Saturday evening to conclude the yearly festival that sees tree stumps become works of art in a matter of four days.

Taking the top honor for the second straight year was Montrose’s Ken Braun, who collected a grand prize of $1,000 for his work “Blue,” a depiction of the velociraptor of the same name from “Jurassic World.”

Ken Braun triumphantly rides atop Blue the velociraptor after winning first place in the 20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous. Braun also won People’s Choice and tied for Artist’s Choice.
Andy Bockelman

Braun said he chose the figure about a week ago after watching the movie, seeing the reptilian antihero as terrifying yet likable.

“I thought, man, that’s a character everyone can relate to,” he said.

The beloved dinosaur not only won Braun the top honor — which he took last year for a carving of “Pirates of the Caribbean” villain Davy Jones — but also People’s Choice and a tie for Artist’s Choice.

The dozen carvers were split on the latter award, which also went to Robert Waits for his brightly colored carving of Dr. Seuss’s ecological curmudgeon, The Lorax.

Robert Waits The Lorax as co-recipient of Artist’s Choice in the 20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous.
Andy Bockelman
20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous carvings

Stump 1 — Nate Hall — “Mountain Migraine”; Rams butting heads

Stump 2 — Matt Ounsworth — “20 for 20”; Animal totem (Second place)

Stump 3 — Jim Valentine — “Buckshot Bill”; Cowboy

Stump 4 — Damon Gorecki — “Wood Haven”; Bench

Stump 5 — Justine Park — “Home of the Brave”; Skull with feathered headdress

Stump 6 — Joe Srholez — “Xing Yun (Lucky)”; Dragon

Stump 7 — Chad Stratton — “Long Ago”; Wooly mammoth

Stump 8 — Bongo Love — “The Sweet Life”; Hummingbirds (Third place)

Stump 9 — Robert Lyon — “Horse of Course”; Horse

Stump 10 — Robert Waits —  The Lorax”; The Lorax (Artist’s Choice)

Stump 11 — Fernando Dulnuan — “The Lion of Judah”; Angel with lion and lamb

Stump 12 — Ken Braun — “Blue”; Velociraptor (First place, People’s Choice, Artist’s Choice)

Taking second place and $750 was Fort Collins’ Matt Ounsworth and “20 for 20.” Ounsworth, who won in 2017 for an animal totem, went a similar route with a bear, a butterfly, salmon, otters, owls, turtles, and more to celebrate the festival’s two decades.

Matt Ounsworth relaxes with a drink while waiting to hear the results for the 20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous. Ounsworth won second place for his animal totem, “20 for 20.”
Andy Bockelman

Whittle the Wood mainstay Bongo Love, from Lafayette by way of Zimbabwe, rounded out the top placement with “The Sweet Life,” showing two hummingbirds feasting on nectar.

Bongo Love peeks between the flowers and hummingbirds of “The Sweet Life,” the winner of third place in the 20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous.

With a panel of five judges determining each entries’ artistic merits, such as theme and use of space, it was a tough call to pick a winner, said first-year judge Melanie Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick refused to divulge how she voted but hinted that attention to detail was what influenced her most.

“I was pretty open as far as style. The velociraptor having skin texture detail on it and (Jim Valentine’s) cowboy having cuticles on it, that was what was important to me, and you could see on all sides the level of detail they put into it,” she said.

She added that even the eight carvings that didn’t take an award each had a sense of artistry that fit the area.

“All the artwork today seems super-authentic to Craig and to fit really well for our region. Everything seems to have the character of Northwest Colorado, so I totally dig it,” she said.

Blue skies, soft terrain lend to running conditions for Friends of Moffat County Education’s Wake the Whittler 5K

Harriers of all ages got in motion Saturday morning as part of Friends of Moffat County Education’s Wake the Whittler.

Runners went the distance along a three-mile course at Loudy-Simpson as part of the annual 5K race, sponsored by FMCE and Memorial Regional Health as a fundraiser for area schools.

At a count of about 50, the number of athletes was a dip from previous years, which owners attributed to wet weather the night before.

Though the sun was shining Saturday, the residue from Friday’s rain showers left the trail muddy and forced organizers to rework the course, including taking out the Nature Trail.

A handful of runners also got diverted from the final stretch by passing through the lineup of carvers in the park with Whittle the Wood Rendezvous.

Still, Coltyn Terry was well in front of everyone as the first to finish for the day at a time of 19 minutes, 30 seconds.

The incoming Moffat County High School junior said he was keeping pace with several younger runners before taking off himself.

“We pushed as long as we could, and then I just kind of finished,” he said.

2019 Friends of Moffat County Education Wake the Whittler 5K winners

9 to 11

Jesse Terry

Mena Tucker

12 to 14

Darby Byrnes

Brook Wheeler

15 to 18

Coltyn Terry

Liberty Hippely

19 to 33

Heather Hamman

34 to 45

Nathan Grivy

Elizabeth Tucker

46 and up

Terry Barber

Mary Campbell

Allan Reishus

He noted that the event served as a good way to keep in shape as he plans to compete in Down Under Sports’ cross country event in Australia later this month.

With Coltyn winning the 15- to 18-year-old division — along with MCHS track and cross country teammate Liberty Hippely, the first female runner to finish — Darby Byrnes took second overall as the top male in the 12 to 14 group, with Brook Wheeler the swiftest girl in the group.

Jesse Terry and Mena Tucker won the 9 to 11 age bracket, while Heather Hamman and Macho Nunez were the quickest among ages 19 to 33.

Allan Reishus took the award for the most seasoned runner, with Terry Barber and Mary Campbell the fastest for ages 46 and above.

For 34 to 45, Elizabeth Tucker and Nathan Grivy were the first to cross the line.

Grivy said he was coming off 13.1 miles a week earlier in the half-marathon of the Steamboat Springs Marathon, ranking 143rd out of more than 700.

“There was a lot of people in that one. Thought I’d try something a little smaller,” he said.

Video: Whittle the Wood — Carver Quick Cuts

Whittle the Wood cut short Friday by wave of wet weather

By the end of the day Friday, people were few and far between on the grounds of Loudy-Simpson Park.

Where the sounds of rock music would traditionally be carrying through the air for the third day of Whittle the Wood Rendezvous, the only sound was that of a generator used by carver Joe Srholez, having put down his chainsaw and utilizing smaller power tools work on the features of his dragon carving beneath a waterlogged tent.

Wet weather cut short the action of Whittle the Wood Rendezvous, including the musical performances, with local band Black Mountain Riot and the Front Range’s Movers & Shakers on the schedule to take the stage for the first of two days of concerts.

Organizer Dave Pike said the Craig Parks and Recreation staff is working on rescheduling music for Saturday, providing the rain doesn’t carry over for another day.

20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous carvings

Stump 1 — Nate Hall; Rams butting heads

Stump 2 — Matt Ounsworth; Animal totem

Stump 3 — Jim Valentine; Cowboy

Stump 4 — Damon Gorecki; Bench

Stump 5 — Justine Park; Skull with feathered headdress

Stump 6 — Joe Srholez; Dragon

Stump 7 — Chad Stratton; Wooly mammoth

Stump 8 — Bongo Love; Hummingbirds

Stump 9 — Robert Lyon; Horse

Stump 10 — Robert Waits; The Lorax

Stump 11 — Fernando Dulnuan; Angel with lion and lamb

Stump 12 — Ken Braun; Velociraptor

Prior to the precipitation, the park was full of people getting a look at the progress made by the dozen carvers in the competition.

Craig spectators Karrissa and Brooklyn Garcia both weighed in on their favorite entries. For Brooklyn, she was torn between Srholez’s dragon and the carving across the way, Chad Stratton’s wooly mammoth.

“I love the detail on them,” she said.

Stratton’s prehistoric pachyderm was one that was bit tougher than he thought. Tusks, trunk and ears weren’t so hard as one feature that separated it from a typical elephant.

“It’s really hard to show hair,” he laughed, adding he planned to carve petroglyphs into back end of the piece to convey its time period.

Karrissa, on the other hand, preferred an animal totem by Matt Ounsworth, who included an array of animals in the carving, 20 specifically, including a bear and fish up top with a variety of smaller creatures below.

“I was going for 20 animals for the 20th anniversary of Whittle the Wood,” he said.

Karrissa was impressed by the idea.

“That 20 animals for 20 years makes it even more special,” she said. “He’s been moving along really fast, too.”

Ounsworth said the concept didn’t come to him until he began making cuts, as he didn’t want to plan too far in advance.

“It all depended on my log. I got second-to-last choice,” he said.

20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous schedule

Wednesday, June 12
9 a.m. Stump selection and carving until dusk

Thursday, June 13
9 a.m. Carving until dusk

Friday, June 14
9 a.m. Carving until dusk
4:30 p.m. Live music by Black Mountain Riot
5:30 p.m. Bear River Young Life Barbecue and Classic Car Cruise at Yampa Valley Bank
6:30 p.m. Live music by The Movers & Shakers

Saturday, June 15
8 a.m. Friends of Moffat County Education Wake the Whittler 5K and Family Fun Run
9 a.m. Carving
10 a.m. Beer garden, arts and crafts and food vendors
10 a.m. Shuttles begin
10 a.m. Bear River Young Life Classic Car Show in downtown Craig
1 p.m. Quick Carve Competition
1 to 4 p.m.  Thunder Rolls Cornhole Tournament
3 p.m. Live music by Tylor & The Train Robbers
3 p.m. Carving competition judging
5 p.m. Carving competition winners announced
5:30 p.m. Live music by Leftover Salmon
8 p.m. Last shuttle

— All events at Loudy-Simpson Park unless otherwise noted. Admission free Friday. Saturday tickets $5 in advance, $10 at the gate for adults. Free to ages 12 and younger. For more information, visit whittlethewood.com.

Justine Park had a similar numerical idea, crafting a skull base with a headdress, complete with 20 feathers she styled separately from the remnants of her stump. The light features were part of her entry last year, as well.

“It’s kind of symbolic with life and death and hopefully I’ll get a flower in the back, too,” she said.

Among the other entries were Robert Waits’ rendition of Dr. Seuss character The Lorax, a horse reared up on its hind legs by Robert Lyon, and a velociraptor by last year’s winner, Ken Braun.

Many carvings were almost completed by Friday afternoon, following work done Wednesday and Thursday, with most of the artists already painting, burning, or varnishing.

As organizers and carvers hope for clear skies for the Saturday grand finale — which includes the early morning Friends of Moffat County Education Wake the Whittler 5K, afternoon Quick Carve Competition and music by Tylor & The Train Robbers and headliner Leftover Salmon — spectators have already gotten in the spirit.

“I love the atmosphere and all the action,” Karrissa said of the event. “It’s so good for Craig.”

‘God-given talent’: First-time Whittle the Wood entrants make initial cuts alongside longtime competitors

If you can hear a cacophony of chainsaws buzzing in June in Moffat County, it can only mean the yearly Whittle the Wood Rendezvous is underway.

The 20th annual event began Wednesday, June 12 at Loudy-Simpson Park as a dozen woodcarvers made their selections of stumps to begin a four-day process of going from tree work of art.

20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous carvers

Stump 1 — Nate Hall, 1st year

Stump 2 — Matt Ounsworth, 5th year

Stump 3 — Jim Valentine, 5th year

Stump 4 — Damon Gorecki, 7th year

Stump 5 — Justine Park, 2nd year

Stump 6 — Joe Srholez, 3rd year

Stump 7 — Chad Stratton, 14th year

Stump 8 — Bongo Love, 12th year

Stump 9 — Robert Lyon, 4th year

Stump 10 — Robert Waits, 15th year

Stump 11 — Fernando Dulnuan, 1st year

Stump 12 — Ken Braun, 7th year

While some contestants in the carving event have been coming to Craig more than a decade, this is the first time at the event for Nate Hall.

In fact, it’s his first carving competition ever.

Hall, who hails from Lincoln, Nebraska, spent 20 years in advertising and was working with wood as a hobby before his commissions began piling up.

“I had enough of this work to do, that about a year ago my wife said, ‘you know, if you want to do this all the time, you should,'” he said. “So I said, ‘let’s do it.'”

Hall said he first learned of Whittle the Wood online last year and submitted his application to compete earlier this year.

While some competitors have kept their stump in one piece and vertical, Hall’s technique has been to work smaller, with the goal of crafting a scene of two rams butting heads.

“I cut away a lot that I didn’t need, and I did break a horn, so I’m going to need to fix that,” he said.

He added that the Craig community and Whittle the Wood staff have been helpful and encouraging.

“Everybody’s been super-hospitable,” he said.

20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous schedule

Wednesday, June 12
9 a.m. Stump selection and carving until dusk

Thursday, June 13
9 a.m. Carving until dusk

Friday, June 14
9 a.m. Carving until dusk
4:30 p.m. Live music by Black Mountain Riot
5:30 p.m. Bear River Young Life Barbecue and Classic Car Cruise at Yampa Valley Bank
6:30 p.m. Live music by The Movers & Shakers

Saturday, June 15
8 a.m. Friends of Moffat County Education Wake the Whittler 5K and Family Fun Run
9 a.m. Carving
10 a.m. Beer garden, arts and crafts and food vendors
10 a.m. Shuttles begin
10 a.m. Bear River Young Life Classic Car Show in downtown Craig
1 p.m. Quick Carve Competition
1 to 4 p.m.  Thunder Rolls Cornhole Tournament
3 p.m. Live music by Tylor & The Train Robbers
3 p.m. Carving competition judging
5 p.m. Carving competition winners announced
5:30 p.m. Live music by Leftover Salmon
8 p.m. Last shuttle

— All events at Loudy-Simpson Park unless otherwise noted. Admission free Friday. Saturday tickets $5 in advance, $10 at the gate for adults. Free to ages 12 and younger. For more information, visit whittlethewood.com.

Hall is one of two WTW novices this year, the other being Fernando Dulnuan.

Originally from the Philippines, Dulnuan comes to Craig from Norman, Oklahoma with six years of carving experience.

“Three years part-time, three years full-time,” he said. “I’m trying to learn some more about carving. You can see a lot more styles of carving at these things, new tools you can see.”

Dulnuan’s piece is already taking the shape in the form of an angel standing above a lion and lamb, serving as a testimony to his faith.

“Honestly, this is a God-given talent for me, so hopefully this is the purpose God wants for me. Without that, I’m useless,” he said.

He added that the variety the job offers is what has kept him going.

“I can’t stay in one job for a long time, but with this, every carving’s different, so you grow,” he said. “Not a lot of money here, but I like what I do and you’re on your own time and you’re proving yourself.”

Among the rest of the field of competitors, whose time at the festival ranges from year two to year 15, Salt Lake City’s Jim Valentine is about in the middle, now in his fifth year.

Valentine’s entry this year is a cowboy, which he credits to a recent class he took on crafting Western figures with smaller hand tools.

Though he didn’t have the concept in mind headed into the competition, he caught a break during the Wednesday morning drawing for stumps, which used playing cards.

“I got lucky, I got the ace, so I got the first pick,” he said.

After a full first day of working on the piece, he was more than happy to step away Wednesday afternoon.

“I always love coming up here. It’s always a good time. Except for all the hard work,” he chuckled.

Moffat County’s Kinlie Brennise snares breakaway roping state title

It never hurts to be prepared, an adage Kinlie Brennise appreciated more than ever Monday afternoon in the arena of Moffat County Fairgrounds.

Brennise will saddle up for the National High School Rodeo Finals this summer as the top breakaway roper in the state after a victory to conclude the season with Colorado State High School Rodeo Association.

The seasoned cowgirl, two days fresh from her graduation from Moffat County High School, won the title by a single point in the overall count by the end of the state finals at Moffat County Fairgrounds. Though she was right on the cusp of qualifying for nationals going into the weekend, it was three solid days of competition that saw her rise to the top of the rankings.

With third place in the first go Friday at 2.87 seconds and sixth in the second go Sunday — 3.34 — the combined time over the two days balanced out her final attempt in the short go.

Kinlie Brennise pursues a calf in the short go round Monday for Colorado State High School Rodeo Association state finals.
Andy Bockelman

The Monday breakaway round didn’t start well for her, as her first lasso toss failed to catch her calf. But, thanks to the rules of short go, she had the option of using a second loop, and her backup rope was ready.

Pursuing the calf to the opposite corner of the arena ate up some extra seconds, but she nonetheless got the job done before time elapsed, clocking in at 18.45 seconds for the day.

As it happened, Brennise was one of only three breakaway ropers to record scores all three days — and the only national qualifier to do so — earning third in the average scores, which ultimately put her in first place at 92 points to runner-up Tatum Runner’s 91.

Kinlie Brennise smiles with her state championship belt buckle in breakaway roping.
Andy Bockelman

Though she ended the year in second place in the all-around count, the breakaway championship meant much more.

“Breakaway was a strong point for me except for the short round, but it came out how I wanted it to,” she said.

Part of that was due to her older brother Kasen’s presence. During her junior year in 2018, her sibling, then an MCHS senior, was badly injured in the state finals. This year, she didn’t have to worry about him being in the hospital.

“He was here to help me out this time,” she said.

Brennise also qualified for nationals in barrel racing, ranked fourth by the end of the weekend. Though she was tied for the lead going into the state rounds, her horse fought her a bit Friday, and her subsequent finishes left her just out of placement.

Craig’s Kinlie Brennise speeds to her final turn during Sunday’s barrel racing at Colorado State High School Rodeo Association State Finals.
Andy Bockelman

Despite winning the average for her times in the weekend in goat tying and placing as highly as second in goats and pole bending, she just missed heading to nationals at fifth place in each once the overall scores were complete.

“Goats actually really surprised me. It was just a really good weekend,” she said.

Kinlie Brennise flips a goat off its feet in the short go round Monday for Colorado State High School Rodeo Association state finals.
Andy Bockelman

The national finals run for a full week starting July 14 in Rock Springs, Wyoming, but Brennise will be hard at work before that, competing at summertime events including International Finals Youth Rodeo.

And, the fall will be just as busy as she heads to Texas to compete for Weatherford College alongside her brother.

Still, the time spent on the CSHSRA circuit has been excellent training for the higher levels, she said.

“I’ve made friends and met lots of families,” she said. “It’s definitely going to be hard to leave. It’s such a great association.”

Northwest Colorado rodeo athletes move into final day of state finals

After two days of competition at the Colorado State High School Rodeo Association State Finals, riders and ropers from Moffat and Routt counties are making their way into the home stretch.

High school and middle school athletes from Craig, Hamilton, Yampa, Hayden, Steamboat Springs and more will see action Monday at Moffat County Fairgrounds as their last go in the state circuit determines which Colorado cowboys and cowgirls will saddle up for the national finals this summer.

Among those who have been in the mix this weekend are Moffat County’s Kinlie Brennise, Dillon Burch, Garett Stockman, Pepper Rhyne, Clay Durham, Logan Durham, Cactus Barnes, Katie Jo Knez and Jolene Rhyne. Representing Routt are Jace Logan, Kody Logan, Keenan Hayes, Lily Van Ness, Kayla Wille, Grace Eck, Lacey Sherrod.

High school competitors began the finals Friday morning with the second round Sunday afternoon, while junior high athletes started things Friday evening with their second segment Sunday morning.

High school and junior high events will run concurrently for Monday’s short round, beginning at 9 a.m.

Colorado State High School and Junior High Rodeo Association State Finals Championship Round Schedule

Grand Entry

HS Bareback Riding

JH Bareback Steer Riding

HS Barrel Race

JH Barrel Race

JH Chute Dogging

HS Steer Wrestling

JH Girls Breakaway

JH Boys Breakaway

HS Saddle Bronc Riding

JH Saddle Bronc Steer Riding

HS Team Roping

JH Team Roping

HS Tie Down Roping

JH Tie Down Roping

HS Girls Breakaway

JH Ribbon Roping

HS Goat Tying

JH Girls Goat Tying

JH Boys Goat Tying

HS Pole Bending

JH Pole Bending

HS Bull Riding

JH Bull Riding

— The round begins at 9 a.m. Monday. Order of events is subject to change.

Moffat County Class of 2019 keeps hope, heart, humor during graduation ceremony

Sharing thanks, enjoying some laughs, and shedding a few tears are an indicator of the emotional levels that always seem to come with Moffat County High School graduation.

And, this year was no exception.

MCHS said goodbye to 121 graduates during the annual commencement ceremony Saturday morning.

KennaLee Rowley greeted the crowd, setting the tone for hopefulness for the future, getting choked up slightly as she addressed families, friends and fellow near-graduates.

Principal Kyle York acknowledged the final group of Moffat County students he will see in his last year with the school — clad in a white robe covered with senior signatures — including the top honor students and Bulldogs bound for the military.

Likewise, Paula Duzik read off the lengthy list of scholarship recipients, noting the $68,000 coming from local sources alone.

Outgoing Student Council President Hali Reyes and Vice President Terry Gillett announced the 2019 class gift, which will be twofold: a new mural on the school grounds and a new set of furniture for the common area.

Following was the presentation of the awards for Outstanding Senior Boy and Girl.

In presenting the former, teacher Heather Fross noted the recipient’s range of talent from music to multiple sports. But, one character trait stuck out.

“The most inspiring thing about this young man is his kindness,” she said. “He reminded me how powerful kindness can be. He reminded me that kindness, when done repeatedly, has the power to improve the entire school and community.”

Fross went on to announce AJ Barber as the award winner, bringing him up to the stage to thunderous applause.

In introducing the senior girl honoree, Amy Hansen said the academic acumen of Molly Neton shows just how far she’ll go, including a masterful writing style Hansen described as “thoughtful, insightful, clever and clear” on top of her multitude of pursuits with a knack for all-around learning.

“To say this young lady is a sponge for knowledge would be a disservice,” Hansen said. “A sponge is passive, it soaks up what’s around it and after that the best it can do is squeeze it back out. This young lady is anything but passive as a learner. She seeks opportunities to improve and challenge herself so she can grow into the best person she can possibly be.”

Caroline Riley followed with the commencement address, noting her classmates’ diversity of interests and personalities as adding something new to the group that had spent so many years together.

“You are just one addition to this beautiful world, and I hope you understand that your differences are what make this life worth exploring,” she said.

Riley and numerous other seniors clad in cap and gown joined the MCHS choir for the a cappella rendition of Z. Randall Stroope’s “Let Your Heart Be Staid” before hustling back for the main event as they took to the stage for the diplomas and tassel turn they and the audience were all awaiting.

Air horns, confetti and cell phone cameras held aloft celebrated the processional.

No sooner was all said and done, caps tossed in the air, before Sambu Shrestha got the crowd going again with an emotional farewell address.

“We’ve made some amazing memories along the way, and it wouldn’t be possible without the people we’ve had supporting us,” he said.

Shrestha lauded MoCo teachers for their inspiration, support and patience, as well as class parents for their encouragement and love.

“Finally, thank you to the students of Moffat County High School for being a helping hand to each other when we couldn’t find one. For making the worst moments into the funniest jokes and sticking it out and making each other proud,” he said.

Exiting the gym to the upbeat tone of the class song — Smash Mouth’s “All Star” — the young adults who started the day as students walked onto the school lawn, already having singer Steve Harwell’s lyrics in mind, namely “get the show on, get paid.”

For Colton Lodato, that means joining up with the US Army, with multiple motivations including a sense of duty, the career stability and the chance to see the globe.

Still, as much he wants to experience the wider world, he’ll miss the small scale of Craig.

“I love the ability to just walk around here and enjoy it, all the color,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody.”

For Ebawnee Smercina, the next stop of adulthood will be Chadron State College, joining her older brother Eddie in Nebraska, with plans to get a degree in science education.

She credited MCHS teachers Amy Hansen and Clayton Trevenen with instilling an interest in passing on knowledge to the next generation.

“Those two really helped me along the way. I’m really gonna miss them,” she said. “It’s a good feeling knowing I’m growing up and moving on.”

Pedro Romero plans to study close to home at Colorado Northwestern Community College, though the prospect of saying goodbye to many of his friends and classmates was already hitting him hard Saturday after the ceremony.

“It’s hard knowing we won’t see each other every other day. I’ve known them since elementary school, I’ve grown up with them,” he said.

Reyes will spend the fall at University of Tennessee, which she expects will be a bit of culture shock. Although, the Southern humidity will be the big concern.

“Hopefully, they have air conditioning,” she chuckled.

Reyes is confident she’ll look back fondly on her time in Moffat County, but she’s already focused on the future.

“I have a lot of hope for myself and where life takes me,” she said. “Right now, I’m just thinking, ‘go with the flow, trust your gut.'”

19 photos of Moffat County Class of 2019 graduation caps

As part of Moffat County High School’s Class of 2019 graduation ceremony, outgoing students took the opportunity to express their creativity, honor their past and look to the future atop their mortarboards.

Whether it was flowers, sports nostalgia, inspirational quotes, pop culture characters or an Instagram account’s worth of beloved photos, many students went the distance.

For sisters Aliceson and Kamryn Jones, their plans to be paired together in seating backfired when they were placed in separate rows. Still, the sentiment remained the same as the two used “Toy Story” stars Buzz Lightyear and Woody with the quote “So long, partner.”

“We’ve been together our whole lives, and now we’re going to different colleges,” Kamryn said, adding she’ll be attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins, with Aliceson headed to Greeley’s University of Northern Colorado.

“We’ll only be about 30 minutes apart,” Aliceson noted.

More than one cap paid tribute to “The Office.”

While Ebawnee Smercina’s cap highlighted Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, Emily Magruder and Jerzey Landa’s caps were nearly identical to each other, blending the sitcom with their own lives, both featuring character Kelly Kapoor with a photo of Magruder on Landa’s cap and vice-versa.

Kelsey Stauffer’s artwork was inspired by a design she saw on Pinterest, coming together as a bundle of sharp geometric shapes, shimmering with gold and black glitter, as well as Bulldog blue and white.

“I thought it’d be good to have the school colors,” she laughed.

Kaleb Younger took inspiration from Vincent Van Gogh to paint the top of his cap, the royal blue of which was just a shade off from the sky in the necktie he was wearing to complete the ensemble.

“I’m a really big art nerd,” he said.

The small masterpiece that sat on his head through the ceremony was an indication of where he hopes go after high school, possibly pursuing an art program in China.

“It’s a long-term and short-term plan. I just want to do it as soon as possible,” he said.

New school record, outdone expectations at state mark bright future for Moffat County track and field

LAKEWOOD — With Saturday bringing with it a new team record, a competition that nearly didn’t happen, and a bet with some slippery stakes, never let it be said that Moffat County High School track and field athletes don’t make their season exciting right up until the very end.

MCHS girls tied for 11th overall and boys 22nd among the crowd at the 3A CHSAA State Championships, as seasoned Bulldogs combined with first-year competitors to ensure the program has a strong future.

For the record…

The very end of the three-day event for MoCo girls brought with it a bit of history in the making as the Lady Dogs quartet of Halle Hamilton, Stephenie Swindler, Emma Jones and Emaleigh Papierski proved they had one more surprise in store.

The group broke the MCHS record for the 4×400-meter relay at a time of four minutes, 1.27 seconds, a day after the same set of runners clinched a state title in the 4×200.

Though they were hoping to grab the gold for a second time, top team Alamosa and runner-up The Classical Academy had just enough energy left at the end of the day to stay in front of Moffat County, despite an early lead for the Bulldogs.

Much like Friday’s preliminaries, Lilly Lavier of the Mean Moose broke away as the Alamosa anchor, remaining uncatchable in the final lap.

“I knew she was gonna be fast,” Papierski said, adding that her plan was to stay in step with TCA. “I was close, but it was tough.”

With the bronze honors for the day, the names Hamilton, Swindler, Jones and Papierski will live on in a bigger way on the track and field record board at MCHS, just over one second faster than the previous one-mile relay best (4:02.3) set during 2016’s banner season.

However, Swindler doesn’t expect the new record to stand long, with the group already looking to outdo themselves next year.

“We’ll see how long that lasts,” she said.

The MoCo junior has been to state track each spring, though serving as a mentor to younger athletes — sophomore Papierski and freshmen Hamilton and Jones — brings back fond memories of running alongside teammates who have since graduated and made a big impact on how she viewed the sport.

“Those girls back then taught me at a young age how to deal with the competition of running as a freshman, getting my nerves up and helping me with all of it,” Swindler said. “Super-thankful we’ve got a young team like this, so we’ll still have more opportunities next year.”

Even well after the final race of the school year, Jones said she is still amazed with the first year of high school she and Hamilton shared, which included competing at state cross country in the fall as a prelude to the track season to come.

“It’s crazy that it’s already over, but I’ve had a really helpful team that’s helped me push myself harder. This being my first year, they helped me think I can take this. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my team,” she said.

The place to be

Altogether, MCHS track and field visited the podium for eight events across three days.

Thursday saw Swindler, Hamilton, Kelsey McDiffett and Lydia Berkoff in eighth place for the 4×800 to kick things off for the Bulldog momentum.

As a senior in her first time at state, Berkoff said she was pleased with being part of a group effort to succeed at the highest level.

“It’s something I’ve been working on all year,” she said. “Last year I only ran the 800 once and hated it, but they told me relays would be my best bet to go to state. I barely made it, by like a second.”

With discus thrower Jesse Earle placing seventh Friday and the girls 4×2 winning the whole shebang, more placements were yet to come Saturday, one of which came with a wild wager.

A bet between discus competitors Tiffany Hildebrandt and Caylah Million served as extra motivation to throw with all their might in the opening rounds. The two agreed that if either of them didn’t qualify for finals, they’d be forced to swallow a goldfish.

The honor went to Hildy, who placed 15th overall and followed through on the stunt — with a gag — just before Million moved on to the next tier.

With a final mark of 100 feet, nine inches, Hildebrandt said she was at peace with not ending her high school career with a medal, rather focusing on the good times.

“I think the thing I’ll miss the most is how close our throwing team was and all the memories we made,” she said.

As Million stepped into the ring, her goal was twofold: beat her previous best this season — a throw of 116 feet, nine inches that won her a 3A Western Slope League title —  and to rank higher than the ninth place she earned at 2018’s state meet.

The greater distance wasn’t to be, though her final throw of the season amounted to 109′ 2″, pushing her past the nearest competitor by a mere two inches to place eighth.

She noted her aim in the middle of the sector was the sun within the red “C” from the state flag, painted atop the word Colorado in fancy script.

“I was pretty surprised that I made it. It’s been so competitive this year,” she said.

The view from the opposite end of the podium wasn’t drastically different from a year earlier, though Million noted it’s one step closer to the possibility of a state title in her upcoming senior season.

MCHS throwing coach Lance Scranton said the state event doesn’t always bring with it peak performances, though he was pleased with Million’s results.

“Focus isn’t always what you want it to be in this last week, especially for upperclassmen, but all of them did well this season,” he said.

Jared Atkin climbed the podium steps not once but twice Saturday, cruising through prelims in both the 110 and 300 hurdles, ready for his last chance in each for the final day.

Atkin leapt to fourth place in the shorter race, matching exactly his personal record in the 110, 15.19 seconds, which he admitted was a minor frustration with his goal to break 15 flat.

The afternoon saw him run his best race ever in the 300, placing fifth and trimming .04 seconds from his PR for 40.55.

While he had hoped to move to the high 39’s, the journey isn’t over for him, as he plans to run hurdles and relays this fall at Gunnison’s Western Colorado University.

“It’s bittersweet that it’s over, but it’s nice being able to come out and get two medals after the false start I had last year,” he said. “It’ll be good to be around the top kids in Colorado and other states all in one school at Western.”

Between hurdle events, Papierski and Hamilton were side by side in the 400 dash, seeded seventh and ninth, respectively. After hitting a PR 58.79 in prelims to qualify for finals, Papierski stayed in seventh at 59.5 in the race won by Alamosa’s Lavier, whereas Hamilton made it to eighth with 1:00.09, squeaking past Lavier’s teammate, Allyssa Romero.

Though Papierski and Abbe Adams were the only Bulldog jumpers listed when the state heat sheets first came out May 12 — Papierski eventually finishing 13th in long jump Friday — another member of the girls team learned later in the week she’d made the cut as well.

MoCo coaches were already planning to bring Alayna Behrman as a possible substitute for relays, though she was confirmed as a triple jump competitor after a shake-up in the attendee list.

Behrman didn’t take the qualification for granted. Entering the event ranked 18th, she reached a PR of 33′ 8″ to make it to the top 10 who would move to finals. Her next three attempts wouldn’t quite reach her new best, leaving her a heartbeat away from the podium, but she was thrilled with the experience.

“I’m really happy,” she said. “I didn’t expect to even be here, much less get a PR here with such other good triple jumpers. I guess what I learned is don’t really doubt yourself. A lot of things can happen at state.”

Final impressions

For MCHS senior AJ Barber, the three days of state came with a mixed bag of emotions. A disqualifying handoff attempt in Thursday’s 4×200 prelims hit him hard though not hard enough to break his spirit.

Barber led off both the 4×100 and 4×400 relays Friday with a sense of purpose, the former proving especially successful as the Dogs, including Victor Silva, Cale Scranton and Kevin Hernandez, moved from last place in the rankings to 14th with their season best 45.15.

“It was my first year at state, so I’m glad it was a good one,” Barber said. “I’ll miss a lot about this, like the competitiveness of it.”

While teammates had events spread out during multiple days, high jumper Adams wrapped her time at state early Thursday afternoon. Though she didn’t record a height during her attempts, the minimum 4′ 10″ was a bit much to start.

“I’m still pretty proud of myself and everyone else for making it this far,” she said.

While there were some improvements she would have liked to make in hindsight, Hamilton had no complaints about the culmination of her freshman year.

“I just loved every part of it. It was such a good weekend,” she said.

MCHS head coach Todd Trapp said while he wasn’t necessarily expecting a championship and broken record to round out the spring, he wasn’t surprised either.

“At the beginning of the season, you can never really predict those things, but we thought we had a chance of breaking that record,” he said.

He added that with senior Quinn Pinnt — the last member of a 4×100 state champ team from 2016 who has yet to graduate — out of commission after surgery from a basketball injury, that changed the dynamic of the girls team, to which athletes responded well.

“We knew someone would have to develop, and we had multiple kids that stepped up. On both teams,” he said.”Every day they worked hard to get the results they had. It’s not immediate, but the goal is always to get stronger each week.”

Moffat County High School track and field state championships results


Athlete(s) — Final time/distance, place

100-meter dash

Victor Silva — 11.67, 14

110-meter hurdles

Jared Atkin — 15.19, 4

300-meter hurdles

Jared Atkin — 40.55, 5

4×100-meter relay

AJ Barber/Victor Silva/Cale Scranton/Kevin Hernandez — 45.15, 14

4×200-meter relay

AJ Barber/Jared Atkin/Victor Silva/Logan Hafey — No time, 18

4×400-meter relay

AJ Barber/Wilson Eike/Victor Silva/Jared Atkin — 3:40.26, 17


Jesse Earle — 135′ 7″, 7

Shot Put

Jesse Earle — 42′ 4″, 17

— The team tied for 22nd among 3A teams.


100-meter dash

Stephenie Swindler — 13.34, 17

400-meter dash

Emaleigh Papierski — 58.79, 7

Halle Hamilton — 1:00.08, 8

4×200-meter relay

Stephenie Swindler/Halle Hamilton/Emma Jones/Emaleigh Papierski — 1:45.83, 1

4×400-meter relay

Halle Hamilton/Stephenie Swindler/Emma Jones/Emaleigh Papierski — 4:01.27, 3

4×800-meter relay

Halle Hamilton/Kelsey McDiffett/Lydia Berkoff/Stephenie Swindler — 9:56.55, 8

High Jump

Abbe Adams —  No height, 16 (tie)

Long Jump

Emaleigh Papierski —  16′ 3″, 13

Triple Jump

Alayna Behrman —  33′ 8″, 10


Caylah Million — 109′ 2″, 8

Tiffany Hildebrandt — 100′ 9″, 15

— The team tied for 11th among 3A teams.