Latest News – August 3

Leadville Sports Hall Inductions to Be Held August 5

This Friday, August 5 the Leadville/Lake County Sports Hall of Fame (LLCSHF) will hold its annual Induction ceremony, albeit a bit later than the usual late-June event.

Leadville/Lake County Sports Hall of Fame Board Members Carlos Martinez (l) and Gary Hanks (r) serve up the suds at the finish line for the Leadvilel Race Series. The beer tent is a major fundraiser for the local non-profit which will honor local athletes and teams at their induction ceremony this Friday, August 5. Photo: Leadville Today

Leadville/Lake County Sports Hall of Fame Board Members Carlos Martinez (l) and Gary Hanks (r) serve up the suds at the finish line for the Leadville Race Series. The beer tent is a major fundraiser for the local non-profit which will honor local athletes and teams at this Friday’s induction ceremony: Photo: Leadville Today

According to LLCSHF Committee member Carol Martinez the group was looking to increase participation and awareness of the event and determined that Boom Days weekend would be beneficial toward that goal. Therefore the public is invited to the FREE event which will welcome three new athletes in the elite group.

In addition, Friday’s celebration will include the announcement of the Massive Aware winners and pay special tribute to the 60th Anniversary of the 1956 Leadville high school State Championship Basketball Team. The evening starts at 6 pm with a silent auction and hors d-oeuvres, followed by the Awards and Induction ceremony at 7 p.m.  There is no charge to attend, but the Ha;l of Fame will have a silent auction and solicit donations for the Wall of Champions project.

And now the Class of 2016 Leadville/ Lake County Sports Hall of Fame Inductees – Congratulations!

Willard Harvey “Bill” Copper

Bill Copper

Bill Copper

Bill Copper arrived in Leadville as a young boy during the thirties with his parents, who served as caretakers of the Carleton Tunnel on Hagerman Pass.  Bill used the opportunity to sell candy bars and soda to the caravans of cars that utilized the toll tunnel.  In high school Bill started making winter trips on snowshoes and skis to the Carleton Tunnel with his father, who had to replace the water measuring chart every Saturday.   Starting at the cemetery –the closest spot to the tunnel in the winter— the trip would take three days.  One day up, one day to complete the duties, and the third to return.  The intrepid skiers wore full width skis that were strapped at the toe, pine tarred and coated in paraffin.   With no sunscreen products at the time, the men would rub charcoal into their skin to avoid intense burns.  Protective glasses were also hard to obtain, heavy welding goggles were the most popular option.  Cementing his lifelong involvement in the ski industry was ‘snob hill,’ where Bill was employed in high school to run the 450-foot rope tow on weekends.

Upon graduation from Leadville High School in 1943 Bill Copper entered the Army Air Forces.  He saved his paychecks and sent them home with the dream of starting a sporting goods store.  After his discharge in 1945, he persuaded his mother to let him use a small space in the front of their used furniture store and Bill’s Sports Shop was born.  As one of only three ski shops in the state of Colorado, Bill’s Sports Shop initiated an opportunity for Leadville and surrounding areas to have access to state of the art equipment for the rising sport of skiing. The era afforded Bill the ability to carry all the best brands available, with the idea that athletes competing should not be hindered by their equipment. Even though Bill’s Sport Shop was small, it gained and maintained the highest respect of ski suppliers at both national and international levels.

When the Army gave Cooper Hill to the newly formed Cooper Hill Recreation Board, they approached Bill and asked him if he would put in a ski rental and repair shop at the mountain—he agreed.  In the early fifties, the Forest Service required that there be at least one certified instructor to head the ski school.  The board of directors approached Bill again to see if he would become certified—he did.  Bill taught countless locals and visitors alike how to ski, eventually earning recognition and years of service awards from various ski instructors associations.

The local schools wanted to start a cross country ski racing team in the sixties. However, not many cross country skis were available at the time. Bill donated some of his rental skis and they were cut down in the high school shop to make them narrower and lighter weight.  Many youth benefited from Bill Copper’s graciousness of providing regular transportation to and from Cooper Hill in his original power wagon and later his panel truck.   Well over a dozen Leadville skiers from the fifties through the seventies went on to ski at college and university levels, several achieving national and even international participation.  Few would have reached these levels without the support of Bill. 

Bill did his best to ensure that high achieving local youth had access to the performance equipment they needed to be successful.  In the late sixties, legendary cross country running coach Dick Anderson required the team to purchase a new hot running shoe made by Onitsucka called the Tiger.  His athletes were purchasing them from out-of-state when Bills Sports Shop started carrying them.  The shoe company later changed its name to Asics and is still one of the premier running shoes in the world.  The shop was still selling that brand when the store closed in 2010.

Bill’s Sports Shop hosted several fundraising events throughout the years to secure funds to help pay for youth athletics.  The store offered discounts on athletic wear for student athletes, even offering charge accounts to young athletes if they promised to pay using their allowance or funds from their part-time jobs.  Bill’s shops always hired local boys and girls for part time help after school, and on weekends at Cooper Hill.

Bill’s quality ski shop expanded over the years to offer the latest ski and casual clothing styles, as well as supplies for other growing sports such as backpacking, cycling, climbing, scuba, court games and school teams.  When the shop closed in 2010, after 65 years of operation, a list of all 317 past employees was published in the local newspaper honoring them and thanking the customers.   Leadville has had many influential citizens and business associations through the years.  It would be hard, if not impossible, to find anyone who has influenced, contributed or had more of an impact on the sports development, business climate or community support than Bill Copper. 

Bill Copper’s lifelong involvement in community promotion is evidenced by his involvement in the Professional Ski Instructors Association, Rocky Mountain Ski Instructors Association, Lake County Development Corporation and the Elks Lodge.  His accomplishments do not end there, he was also a competitive burro racer—he  was the 1951 Champion of the Pack Burro Race from Fairplay to Leadville.   

Michael Stapleton

Michael Stapleton

Michael Stapleton

Michael Stapleton graduated from Leadville High School in 1970, where he solidified himself as a star basketball player during an era the Panthers competed in three consecutive Colorado State Basketball Tournaments.  As a junior, Stapleton scored 269 points and 165 rebounds on the season. His play was instrumental in the Panther’s 19-4 season that garnered them the Pikes Peak League Championship; District Championship; and a second place trophy in the Class AA Colorado State Championship where he was selected to the Colorado State High School All-Tournament team.  Stapleton was the Panther’s leading scorer his senior season with 475 points and the leading rebounder with 337.  Leadville finished the season with a 17-7 record, winning the Pikes Peak League, District Championship and once again advancing to the Colorado State Tournament.  The team placed fourth and Stapleton was again named to the Colorado State High School All-Tournament Team.  Stapleton finished as the leading scorer in the Pikes Peak League; tied the Panthers single game scoring record with a 39-point performance; and his teammates named him the Panthers MVP.  His season was highlighted by being named a First Team All-State selection by both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, and having the honor to represent Leadville in the Colorado Coaches All-Star game –playing for the South squad he scored 7 points and pulled down 18 rebounds. 

While at Leadville High School, Stapleton was also a standout varsity athlete in football and track.  As an end in football, he was named to the Pikes Peak League All-Conference First Team his senior year.  His eight touchdown catches were instrumental to the team’s 7-2 season, one of the most successful in Panther history. 

After high school Mike signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the Southern Colorado State College Indians (CSU-Pueblo) where he earned three varsity letters.  His sophomore year he played on a team that posted a 19-9 record; won the program’s first overall Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC)title; and won the NCAA West Regional to advance to the NCAA College Division II quarterfinals.  That season still stands as the furthest a CSU-Pueblo men’s basketball team has advanced in the NCAA tournament.  The team was ranked as high as sixth in the nation during the season and was inducted into the CSU-Pueblo Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. His junior year Stapleton played on a team that posted another 19-9 record and won the RMAC for the second year in a row.  He was the starting center on the team for the last 18 games of the season.  The Indians made it to the Midwest Regionals in Springfield, MO, where they finished in fourth place.  His senior season Stapleton was given the honor of being selected as one of three team captains. His play was again instrumental to a successful campaign for the Indians as the team posted a 17-9 record and garnered second in the RMAC.  He started the last 16 games at center and was second in rebounding on the team.  Upon graduation, Stapleton was also named to the Dean’s List with Distinction for his 4.0 GPA.

After earning his degree Stapleton started a thirty year teaching career in Pueblo School District #70, of which twenty-seven years were spent at the same elementary school.  He was named “School District #70 Teacher of the Year” in 1993, the only physical education teacher to ever receive that award. Stapleton coached middle school athletics for nineteen years and boys basketball at Pueblo County High School for five years.  At the middle school level, he coached girls gymnastics, boys and girls track, and boys basketball.  At the high school level Stapleton coached boys freshman basketball for one year and was the Assistant Boys Varsity Basketball Coach for four years, leading the Hornets to four straight Class 4A Colorado State Tournaments.

Tom Sobal

Tom Sobal

Tom Sobal

A native of Gary, Indiana, Tom Sobal moved to Leadville in 1986 after mountain biking through Colorado looking for the “ideal place to live.”  He selected our community because he was fascinated by the elevation and the outdoor activities the area has to offer.  Over the next sixteen years Tom Sobal would call Leadville home and honorably represent Lake County while establishing himself as a burro and snowshoe racing legend. 

As a burro racer, Sobal won over 55 pack-burro races including 27 straight during one span of seven years.  He won races using seven different burros, many with a burro named Maynard but also Bullwinkle, Hollywood, Nestor, Braxton, Mordecai and Spike.  Sobal has the record for the most World Championships, winning eleven titles from 1989 to 2006, surpassing the nine titles of burro racing pioneer and 2004 Leadville-Lake County Sports Hall of Fame Inductee Joe Glavinick.  Sobal also has course records of 3:44:18 at Fairplay and 2:27:32 at Leadville.

Sobal is not only considered a snowshoe racing pioneer, but is arguably the most accomplished snowshoer in the United States.  He was featured in Sports Illustrated and graced the cover of the Wall Street Journal who called him the Michael Jordan of Snowshoeing.  Known for snowshoeing more miles per year than anyone in the world, Tom Sobal has won more than 130 races at distances ranging from 1 to 100 plus miles.  He has also garnered five World Championship titles, numerous course records, and has won races in eight different states.  He has the world’s best time for a marathon run on snowshoes, covering 26.2 miles in 3:06:17.  During his career Tom raced for, represented and served as a spokesman for both Tubbs and Redfeather.  

Sobal was also an accomplished mountain and trail runner, winning more than 85 races ranging from 3 to 35 miles in length and serving as a 3-time member of U.S. National World Cup Mountain Running Team. 

Sobal was the founder and race director of the Turquoise Lake 20-mile Snowshoe Run for 20 years, and the founder and race director for the Turquoise Lake 20K run for 15 years.  Both events brought thousands of participants to the Leadville area and undoubtedly provided an economic impact to the local community. Sobal helped lay out and measure the course for the initial Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race.  He raced in the inaugural event and finished eleventh overall with a time under nine hours despite mechanical issues that forced him to run several miles carrying his bike.

Sobal has been active in promoting running at all levels.  He started the Colorado High School Snowshoeing Championships and directed that event at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville for two years. He founded and was an officer in the non-profit Leadville Running and Fine Dining Club for over 15 years.

Sobal has also been a frequent author, speaker, and instructor.  Many times volunteering his time to share his knowledge and serve as an ambassador for the sports that he loves.  He volunteered as a Technical Delegate for snowshoeing at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Toronto, Canada (1997); Anchorage, Alaska (2001); Nagano, Japan (2005); Boise, Idaho (2009) and Pyeongchang, South Korea (2013).  He has been a frequent contributor to numerous magazines and newsletters and has served on the national advisory Boards of the American Trail Running Association and the U.S. Snowshoe Association. 

Sobal was selected by the local organizing committee to carry the Winter Olympic Torch when the relay passed through Leadville for the Salt Lake City games in 2002.  He is the only Leadville resident ever afforded that honor.





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