August 27, 2013 Updated: August 27, 2013 at 10:05 pm
Heading into his senior year at Wasson, lineman Josiah Black looked forward to finally making it to the top. Then in February, District 11 voted to close Wasson as a high school, thus sending Black and scores of fellow Thunderbirds flocking to find new homes for the upcoming academic year.
Black didn't panic, landing on his feet at Palmer, where he's a projected starter on the offensive line. That's quite a jump from 3A to 5A.
"Palmer was the natural choice for me since it's close to where I live," said Black, whose former coach, Jeff Palmer, is a Terrors assistant. "As for jumping up in class, I haven't given it much thought. I look forward to playing teams like Valor (Christian) and Fountain-Fort Carson. It'll be a great learning experience."
All over the city, football programs have opened their doors to T-Birds with welcome arms. At Mitchell alone, 13 players on last season's Wasson team don the Marauders' blue and orange.
Joining forces with the enemy didn't sit terribly well with Mitchell senior lineman John Moultrie. During the summer, he noticed a few new faces in the Marauders weight room and realized they were former T-Birds.
"At first, I thought it would be kind of weird," Moultrie said. "I mean, they were our rival school. We always wanted to tear their heads off. But you know what? We overcame that obstacle. It was a great rivalry while it lasted. But in the end, they came and joined our family."
The new Marauders were grateful for the class and hospitality displayed by the Mitchell team.
"Because they were our rival, I hoped they would help us by bringing us in for team and family unity," said Chase Bess, now a starting tight end and linebacker for Mitchell.
"They took us in. It's a great family, great team and great players."
The great players aren't confined to areas in and around Wasson, either.
For example, junior Abi Young, also a reserve on last year's T-Birds basketball team that reached the 4A state semifinals, earned a starting spot at receiver or slot at 4A Rampart.
Coronado welcomed three former T-Birds to the west side and is doing more than just talking about making the displaced students feel at home. For one home game this season, the Cougars will wear Wasson's black game pants for a distinctly T-Birds look.
"We're here to do what's best for kids," Rampart coach JJ Owens said. "There are a lot of great coaches in this area who are doing right by these kids."
Under typical circumstances, a student transfer during the summer without a bona fide family move results in restricted eligibility for the first half of the regular season.
Then again, what happened at Wasson is far from typical.
"When a school closes, it certainly qualifies as a hardship when you're forced to go to a different school," said Colorado High School Activities Association commissioner Paul Angelico, a Wasson graduate. "Overall, all have eligibility where they end up, but not necessarily 100 percent if they've followed a coach or other things that may have happened. It's case by case, but every case that I've seen has passed."
Now that any awkwardness has passed, teams are ready to play football with welcome additions.
"After a while, the Wasson-Mitchell thing went away," said 12th-year Marauders coach Archie Malloy, a Mitchell graduate as well. "It was just kids playing football.
"We got some great kids, and I wish all of them success."