I remember the first time I interviewed Joe Roskam, the grizzled football coach of the Woodland Park Panthers. It was 14 years ago —2004 to be exact —shortly after he had been hired as the new head coach at Sierra High School.
At that time, I was covering everything from prep sports to the Colorado Rockies. Roskam got the Sierra job after four years as the lead man at Cripple Creek-Victor, which played 11-man in those days.
Sierra was Roskam’s splash into the big-time. Sierra was one of the higher profile jobs in the Pikes Peak region in those days. Just six years earlier, the Stallions lost to Rampart in the 1998 Class 4A state championship game.
Roskam was at Sierra through the 2010 season, leading the Stallions to a pair of playoff appearances. He left the school to take over a Woodland Park team that had gone winless that same season.
In eight seasons as the Panthers’ coach, Roskam has yet to enjoy the same type of success he had at CC-V or Sierra. Twice (2011 and 2013), his Woodland Park teams went 5-5. This season may result in his first winless season as a head coach.
The Panthers are 0-8 entering their final game at The Classical Academy Friday. Losing is not fun. Those that think the Woodland Park players and coaches are content with giving it the “old college try” or playing “with a lot of grit” are dead wrong. There is no joy when you’re getting thumped by La Junta, 40-0, Lamar, 30-0, or your dreaded rival Manitou Springs, 30-7, as was the case on the cold and damp Oct. 12 night down Ute Pass.
“We’re young and inexperienced,” Roskam told me after the Manitou Springs game. “I knew we were going to take our lumps. We have some guys that are learning on the run. We have to live with some growing pains so that these kids can really be amazing in a year or two.”
Anyone who thought Woodland Park would catch a break this season by dropping down to 2A from 3A is just not very informed. Roskam and I talked in great length last winter about the quality of 2A football. The rosters of most 2A teams may pale in comparison to 3A squads, but there are many skilled players.
It’s been nearly two decades since the Woodland Park program has been a playoff team. The Panthers had a great two-year run in 1999 and 2000. They advanced to the 4A state quarterfinals in 1999. In 2000, they lost the 3A state championship game to Cañon City.
Roskam has not suddenly forgotten how to coach. The Woodland Park football players have not gone soft, either. And the competition has not been elevated to a higher level. The fact is, Woodland Park does not have the depth of skilled, or seasoned, players in its program to compete with the most teams at the 2A or 3A level. Sadly, there are several talented football players, year in and year out, that live in Teller County but, for whatever reasons, choose to attend other schools like Manitou Springs and Palmer. Not many studs are transferring up the hill.
Hang in there, Coach Roskam and crew. Things will turn around.
Danny Summers has been covering sports at all levels in the Pikes Peak region since 2001. Send your story ideas and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org