Denver South, directed by coach Tony Lindsay Sr., center, is the only one of the 10 former Denver Prep League football programs to have a winning season in 2012. The Rebels are in the Class 4A state playoffs. They next meet perennial power Wheat Ridge. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)

In football, at least, the Denver Prep League has gone the way of teenagers cruising up 15th and down 16th Streets downtown and ending up at North Denver's Scotchman Drive-In. It has gone the way of being able to shop at department stores — The Denver Dry Goods Company, May D&F and Joslin's — or playing baseball at Merchants Park. It has gone the way of attending the auto races at Lakeside Speedway.

After struggling for years to compete with suburban schools, the Denver Public Schools went their own way starting in 2006. They now play football at four Colorado High School Activities Association levels — 2A, 3A, 4A and 5A — and in six leagues. Only two schools, Denver East and Abraham Lincoln, play in the top classification, 5A. Yet in the recently completed regular season, only Class 4A Denver South (10-1) had a winning record and advanced to the postseason.

It has been 23 years since a DPS team won a state championship. Thomas Jefferson beat city rival Montbello in the 4A championship game in 1989, when that was the highest-enrollment classification.

There are reasons for hope, however, for DPS programs, where just getting players out for football has been a problem stretching back a decade or more. DPS coaches note that improvement in opportunities at the middle-school level are helping their programs build up numbers and become more competitive, and should start showing up in improved win-loss records at the varsity level in future years.

As one of the founders of a Denver Prep League program that has since added other backers, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment's charity arm provides $100,000 for middle-school sports in Denver. In addition to KSE — which owns the Avalanche, Nuggets, Mammoth and Rapids — the Broncos and Rockies also are involved. A "Broncos Futures" football program at middle-school levels has gotten younger players in the football pipeline for the high schools.

Deb Dowling-Canino, KSE's vice president for community relations, said she believes Denver "is the only city in which all professional sports are supporting inner-city school athletics."

In football, the 10 "Broncos Futures" teams, made up of seventh- and eighth-graders, represent the high schools and play a spring season.

"I think we're better numbers-wise since we started the Futures program four years ago," said John Andrew, director of middle-school athletics for the Denver schools. "They're seniors now."

He cited several senior star running backs from the 2012 season, including East's Shahid Hoover and South's Pete Williams and Tony Lindsay Jr., as products of the program..

"It's paying dividends," Andrew said. "We thought by this year one or two teams would be good."

Said South coach Tony Lindsay Sr.: "For such a long time, we couldn't compete up front. The suburban teams would just kill us. Now, we can compete across the lines. You have to block and tackle. You can do that now. The Futures program has really helped us."

It will also help if the city schools can keep their players in the city. The state's open-enrollment policy means residents of Denver can attend schools outside the district if there is room and if they're accepted by the schools. In past years, many top inner-city players have transferred to private-school powerhouses.

There are those, too, who believe a return to grouping all 10 football programs into a Denver Prep League, as it used to be, would help city schools be more competitive. Former George Washington head coach Steve Finesilver, who still is at the school and helping out in the program, said he plans on presenting a proposal to DPS athletic director Karen Higel calling for re-forming the league and adding two struggling programs from outside the city limits — Aurora Central and Adams City.

"The battle used to be DPS against the suburbs," Finesilver said. "The rationale for moving us apart was so we can be competitive at different levels. We had been together as a league for 90 some years, and now we're split into six leagues. The people I've talked to are disgruntled that we're not together anymore; we're no longer the Denver Prep League. But we are in everything else."

For the foreseeable future, though, DPS football programs will be trying to rebound, in their own leagues.


South carrying the banner

Denver South has been the pride of the DPS in football this fall, going 9-1 during the regular season and advancing with a first-round Class 4A playoff victory Friday night. A look at how the other schools finished.

Class 5A: Denver East was 4-6; Lincoln 3-7.

Class 4A: In addition to South, Montbello was 4-6, George Washington 3-8 and Kennedy 1-9.

Class 3A: Thomas Jefferson was 4-6; Denver North 1-9

Class 2A: Denver West was 3-6; Manual was 1-8


Breakdown of the DPS

Denver Post preps reporter Ryan Casey takes a school-by-school look at the DPS and its athletic programs:

Denver Public Schools
High school Students* Football class Demographic makeup* State titles
Abraham Lincoln 1,805 5A 91.3% Hispanic
3.7% White
2.8% Asian
6
Its boys basketball program has a neat history of having international transfer students, as well as some recent success. Baseball went 18-3 in 2011. Football, though, hasn't won more than three games since 2007.
Bruce Randolph 447 None 91.7% Hispanic
5.6% Black
0
Bruce Randolph's teams participate in Class 3A. Both basketball teams have fallen on hard times of late, though boys soccer went 12-3-1 this year and went to the 3A tournament.
East 2,313 5A 43.7% White
26.4% Black
21.7% Hispanic
2.3% Asian
70
Has the most state championships of any DPS school. Traditionally strong in boys basketball. Most recent championship was in 5A boys soccer last season. Football has been good, but not great, in recent years.
George Washington 1,510 4A 36.2% Black
28.8% Hispanic
24.8% White
4.3% Asian
16
School has a rich recent history in girls track — stars Chyna Ries and Dior Hall both return this spring — and its basketball programs had a good run from 2006-09. But football hasn't had a winning season since 2007.
John F. Kennedy 1,197 4A 69% Hispanic
17.8% White
7.8% Asian
2.3% Black
1.3% American Indian
2
Most recent state championship came in 1974 in football. Kennedy went 11-1 last year and was a legitimate threat to win the 3A title, but fell in the second round. This year's team struggled mightily in jump to 4A.
Manual 359 2A 62.1% Hispanic
32% Black
3.1% White
22
School has probably the best gym in the state, and a rich history in boys basketball with 11 state championships since 1940. But the most recent one came in 1991.
Montbello 1,067 4A 71.2% Hispanic
20.8% Black
3.4% White
1.5% Asian
15
Had a good run in boys track and field from 1987-96, winning seven championships. Girls track won four titles from 2003-08. At 4-6, football had its best season in years this fall after 3-26 record from 2009-11. Boys basketball has also been good of late.
North 743 3A 86.8% Hispanic
6.2% White
3.1% Black
1.5% American Indian
1.1% Asian
14
Was very good in wrestling — from 1939-49. Most recent championship came in 1977 in baseball. Football team went 1-9 this season.
South 1,313 4A 32.4% Hispanic
24% Black
23.1% White
17.6% Asian
34
This year's football team is the great hope of the city, aiming to become the first city team in more than two decades to win a state championship. The football program has been solid under Tony Lindsay for several years.
Thomas Jefferson 1,048 3A 37.2% White
29.2% Hispanic
24.1% Black
2.7% Asian
1.0% American Indian
14
Football program used to be the envy of the city, as recently as the mid-2000s, but has slipped. Volleyball has had a lot of recent success, including a 20-4 record this season. Baseball has also been solid.
West 628 2A 87.6% Hispanic
5.3% Black
4.5% White
1.4% American Indian
3
The football team won three games this season and that was more than the past four seasons combined. Boys cross country is the school's most decorated program, with back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.
*Enrollment and demographic figures from 2011-12. Source: DPS