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The Rams girls’ and boys’ basketball teams both won the 3A Western Slope League’s season-long Sportsmanship awards for 2018-19, last February during a district playoff game at Grand Junction.

After hanging out at Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High as she grew up, starring on the girls’ basketball squad in the mid-to-late 2000s, then returning to her alma mater as an assistant on the hoops sidelines, lifelong local Jade Bath ascended to become the Rams’ athletic director.

She’d assisted three basketball seasons, stepping into the head job herself for three more. Now, she’s departed the bench, but Bath will be able to concentrate on heading all the Ram sports, without having to focus so much on a single one.

Bath says being AD at her old school, in her hometown, is special: “I enjoy it, I love it, I’m passionate about it. I always wanted to give back to the community and to Roaring Fork athletics. Now, I’m still doing that, but on a different level. Being AD and being part of all the teams, all the programming, all their successes — it makes the job worth it, for sure.”

Going into the 2019-20 basketball season that starts this week, Bath has had to replace not only herself, but a Roaring Fork legend in former football assistant and longtime head boys’ coach Larry “Shorty” Williams, who retired last spring.

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Roaring Fork Athletic Director Jade Bath.

She agrees with many in the Carbondale community who say, “you can’t replace a Shorty Williams. I think everybody knows that. I knew coming in I’d try to keep him here as long as possible, but his grandkids are getting into sports, and he wanted to be able to spend more time with them and at their events, and possibly coaching them.”

Taking over for the legend, the man who’d been at his side for a good stretch, Bath says, “I think next best is Tony Gross. He was under Shorty as his assistant the last six years. It turns out the timing is perfect, and we felt Tony was the best person for the job, continuing the tradition of the boys’ basketball program and hopefully taking it to the next level. And he’s a Roaring Fork alum, which adds to it, for sure.”

Gross graduated Fork in 1983; his son Clay will be assisting.

Gross inherits a squad that’s lost at least two of the best overall athletes in Joe Salinas and Ronald Clemente, in recent Rams memory.

According to Bath, “Tony’s figuring out who’s going to be his go-to, after Joe. There are the big shoes of Ronald to fill, too. But I think he’s got it figured out, and the way he’ll have those boys playing, they won’t skip a beat at all. I’m excited to watch them. It’ll be a fun year for sure.”

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The gridiron Rams are officially returning for the 2020 season, AD Jade Bath recently announced.

For her own former squad, Bath didn’t have to look very far either, turning to her own bench assistant.

“The new head girls’ basketball coach is Juan Quintero, who was my freshman coach last year. He’s another Roaring Fork alum, and he was the star of his team when he was in high school. He went on and tried to play at CSU, but got injured. His knowledge of the game is way beyond mine, one of the reasons I brought him on as an assistant. Now he’s going to take the reins and run with the program.”

Quintero had been a three-point shooting guard, one of the Rams’ biggest scoring threats, back in his playing era of 2001-’03.

Personnel-wise, despite the losses of seniors including Gabriela Santana and Logan Erickson, Coach Quintero, according to Bath, “still has a pretty stacked team, with Maya Lindgren and Emily Broadhurst who really led our club last year.”

Along with Broadhurst, the Lady Rams’ other seniors will include Caroline Wisroth and Isabella Hernandez. Lindgren, who pitched so well this fall helping lead Basalt to the state softball tournament, is a junior, and so are Lily Nieslanik and Letey Crownhart.

As they do each year, the Rams’ hoopsters lead off hosting the Brenda Patch Memorial Tournament this weekend, Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 5-7.

It’s the longest-standing tradition at Roaring Fork, named for the 16-year-old Patch, who died along with her mom Loretta in a Thanksgiving Day traffic accident in 1986. The tournament that began only a week later was then called the Roaring Fork Invitational, and despite their grief, Patch’s Lady Ram teammates managed to win it that year.

RFHS retired Brenda’s number 33 jersey, but brought it back to be worn a few years later by Brenda’s sister Stacey, and more recently by Stacey’s daughter Kendall Bernot, who graduated last spring.

Bath says the Patch tourney “sets the tone for the season. It’s been a big part of who I am, playing in it, coaching in it and now running it. You see some community members you don’t normally see during the regular season, since they want to come out and support the Patch family. All the proceeds go to two scholarships, for a boys’ and a girls’ basketball player.”

Sixteen teams, varsity and JV, will take part, including the preseason number-one and number-seven boys’ varsities in Class 3A. They’re top-ranked Lutheran High of Parker, who knocked the Rams out of the state tournament last spring, and 7th-place Denver School of Science & Technology: Byers. Steamboat Springs, Rifle, Coal Ridge, Glenwood and both Basalt JV teams will also be playing.

Roaring Fork rebirth happening in fall 2020

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Roaring Fork boys warm up ahead of their 3A state tournament game, March 2 at Lutheran High in Parker.

As was explored in my very first Roaring Fork Weekly Journal story back on May 2 (“End Run,” rfweeklyjournal.com/schools/end-run/), it was going to be a huge task for Bath and the rest of the Roaring Fork community to bring Rams varsity football back for 2020, after the program ended due to lack of numbers during a winless 2017 season.

Now, AD Jade announces the gridiron Rams are officially returning.

“We will be back up to the varsity level, in Class 1A,” she says. “Toward the end of the (2019 JV) season, we had 24 to 25 players. We’ve got a lot more planning to come out, too. Once they saw the success of the earlier games and how fun it really was, a lot of kids started coming out in the middle of the season. So, we made the decision to boost it back up to varsity. I didn’t want to wait – that’s what’s hard about the CHSAA schedule cycle. If we didn’t come back now, we’d have to be down another two years.”

Some had expressed doubt that even veteran coach Dave Close, who mentored the Rams from 1997-2006, would be able to make it happen, despite the help of several of his past players as assistants, including Eric Bollock, who runs the Carbondale Mountain West Youth Football program. Bath expects some hiccups along the way, saying, “you’ll have your injuries, kids ineligible due to grades or other reasons, I’m sure there’ll be some ups and downs.”

There have been some huge ups in Rams football history. They won 2A state championships in 1973, ’77 and ’85, that last one a one-point victory over then-conference foe Battle Mountain.

Bath is ready for the tradition to return.

“I let Coach Close tell the boys, and they were ecstatic. They were so happy – that’s what it’s about. And that’s kind of what led to the decision. Some boys have really gone through the mud with that program. There’s nothing they deserve more than to be out there, playing for Roaring Fork.

“We told them, ‘you have the option of going to Basalt or Glenwood to try and make varsity,’ and they said, ‘No way, we want to play for Roaring Fork.’ I think that’s what makes it worth it – getting to see those kids at the varsity level, under the lights and trying to get that Friday night atmosphere back in Carbondale.”