Depending on your perspective and general outlook on life, it’s conceivable to label Colorado Springs as a) a great sports town, b) a terrible sports town or c) a very picky sports town.
We’ll address that, but first, let’s make a more salient point:
Colorado Springs, actually the region as a whole, stands at a pivotal intersection in its sports history. The next few years will define this area’s sports personality for the next generation, for better or worse.
Some indicators are positive. We’re on the brink of embracing a major new sports tourism magnet with the opening of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame. The attraction brings so much potential, establishing Colorado Springs as the official, permanent focal point for America’s Olympic history and legacy.
At the same time, we’ve just broken ground on a new downtown stadium, which will become the home for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks minor-league soccer franchise and hopefully a variety of other events.
Meanwhile, Colorado College has embarked on its own construction project, building an on-campus arena to house the Tigers’ major-college hockey program, which has sagged to mediocrity.
The Air Force Academy, inspired by recent changes allowing cadet-athletes to turn pro after their college careers are done, might produce more recruiting successes to enhance its football, basketball and hockey teams.
[pullquote-1] We could go on with other sports like Minor League Baseball, which in a perfect world still might find a place on the next bandwagon with its own downtown stadium.
This isn’t just about construction projects, however. What we need, not someday but immediately, is a fresh nucleus of leaders with bold new ideas to make it all work. We can’t just build new edifices and expect that to ignite a new era of sports passion. We must have ambitious ideas, goals and ringleaders to ignite the masses.
We had that in the 1970s, attracting the Olympic movement and events such as the National Sports Festivals, and starting the Sports Corp with its enduring impact. We had it in the 1980s, when Air Force football emerged with a world-beating identity that filled Falcon Stadium, and later when the city pulled together to bring the Sky Sox and Triple-A baseball to town. We had it in the 1990s, building and filling the World Arena for CC’s nationally prominent hockey team and for so many other annual events, concerts, exhibitions, graduations and competitions.
Yet, over the past 20 years, Colorado Springs slipped from bold to soft, from hungry to content, from proud to smug. We went from being one of America’s greatest sports towns to living in the past. We don’t fill Falcon Stadium anymore, not even for Army or Navy. We don’t pack the World Arena unless it’s a huge attraction, and baseball could be on the verge of vanishing.
We do have new athletic directors at Air Force and Colorado College who understand the need for marketing and unexpected ideas. We have the Olympic Hall of Fame with a forward-thinking board and staff, along with the new Summit House atop Pikes Peak that can become a valuable sports component.
What should we consider?
As has been mentioned in years past, we must come up with recurring events and programs to involve many more residents in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps Air Force hockey and basketball could make the World Arena their second home, for regular-season games as well as holiday tournaments. Air Force football could have its spring game and a preseason scrimmage at the downtown stadium, which will need much more than just the Switchbacks with their 20 or so home appearances.
That’s the challenge facing Colorado Springs, not for someday but now. We have promising new ingredients taking shape, such as all the development that is bringing so many more people to live around downtown.
But we still need to bring back our boldness, our swagger, our hunger. We need new reasons to show up. We need new trailblazers to lead the way (they just need a not-so-gentle nudge; you know who you are), and yes, we need the local media to be a supportive part of the equation.
What kind of sports town will Colorado Springs be in the 2020s? The jury is still out, but with enough fresh ideas and energy, we could be on the verge of a remarkable new renaissance.
Bring it on.