To borrow a phrase, with great power (and size) comes great responsibility. Cherry Creek High School, the largest high school in Colorado, has embraced this mantra for its athletic and academic programs.
Cherry Creek is a juggernaut in athletics and academics not only in Colorado, but the entire country. In 2014, its performing arts department was one of 12 awarded a Grammy, recognizing it for making an outstanding contribution to music. This past year, its broadcasting group was awarded the NFHS Network Elite School in just its second year of existence. Its speech and debate teams are annually ranked in the top 10 of the country, its CyberPatriot team, which competes in science and technology competitions, finished No. 2 in the country last year and its athletic varsity programs averaged a 3.52 GPA over the same span.
Running an athletic program of such large size and expectations is no small feat, so it’s a good thing Jason Wilkins is at the helm as athletic director.
Athletically, Cherry Creek is competitive in each of its 26 varsity programs. The boys tennis program has 41 state team titles to its credit, having won the title all but three times since 1972. The girls tennis team has won state titles 34 times overall and 20 of the last 21.
Everybody gets a chance
Over 300 athletes try out for varsity tennis but only 11 make each varsity squad. Wilkins was adamant that one of the school’s top goals is to provide a place for everyone since they have 2,000 kids (over half of the student body) who go out for athletics.
One of the ways to incorporate so many students is to have multiple levels of competition. The tennis program, for example, offers six. If a player doesn’t make one of those six levels they are put in “The Ladder” where they play challenge matches in an effort to move up the ladder and make their way onto one of those teams.
“When you offer 26 programs and some of those have three, four, or five levels, it’s not always just about the varsity program,” Wilkins said. “We try to offer a spot for as many kids as possible as well as a good experience to all of our student athletes regardless of if they are a varsity athlete or a backup on the freshman team. We want them to have a great experience and to leave our school with a positive outlook.”
There’s little fun in fundraising
Cherry Creek has booster clubs for most of its programs, but the majority of funds raised through them goes directly to that program, which helps the program but not Wilkins’ general fundraising account. His solution: almost every program hosts a tournament or invitational with the proceeds going directly to the general fundraising account. It’s a win-win; the program gets notoriety and Wilkins gets money that benefits the entire athletic department. It’s not like the events are a cakewalk for Cherry Creek either, most of them bring in some of the best teams in the state.
“The competition level is high. Teams want to come to our events since they are very well-run and they want good competition,” Wilkins said.
Cherry Creek’s business group, DECA, also runs its school store which sells athletic apparel. With the school’s size and number of athletes, it’s another way for them to raise money which is split between athletics, business, and technology for the school.
Partnering with Eastbay
When Wilkins took the job, he thought Cherry Creek could do a better job branding itself. Eastbay Team Sales provided the opportunity to build and portray an identity that Wilkins was excited about.
“Eastbay has allowed us to have a style guide. Now I can say, ‘here’s the font you use, here are the sizes, here are the logos you can use.’ So we show up or people come to our place and know that it is Cherry Creek,” Wilkins said. “It’s like when you see Ohio State or Michigan, everyone knows their uniforms and colors.”
Cherry Creek is on top of both its academic and the athletic game. With young programs already earning national recognition and established ones continuing their success, it looks to keep up that level of greatness for years to come.