FORT COLLINS — When the Liberty Common High School boys soccer team brought home the Class 3A state championship trophy in November 2017, Cole Goeltl was never happier.
Then a junior, all Goelti could think of was the words of two seniors on the team his freshman year: Iron sharpens iron. It’s part of a philosophy that proves, at least at Liberty Common, that students don’t have to choose between academics and athletics.
The phrase is a biblical reference that suggests people are able to improve each other through support and interaction.
“Regardless of whether you are a freshman or a senior, you have to push each other because ultimately, it’s the team score that matters most,” Goeltl recalled from the inspirational speech that day three years ago. “You can’t just win for yourself, you have to win for each other. That’s where the real success is made.”
After an undefeated season, it took the boys just one goal in the state title game to cap their season at 20-0 and record the school’s first ever athletic state championship.
The charter school that started in 1997 with the help of former U.S. Congressman, Colorado State Senator and Colorado State Board of Education Chairman Bob Schaffer, is no stranger to state records.
That same class of students who first introduced the “iron sharpens iron” inspiration to the soccer team broke the state record for average ACT score for the test they took their junior year.
Goeltl remembers that accomplishment, too.
“I remember being like, ‘I want my class to accomplish the same thing when we are in that position,’” Goeltl said.
So, it only seemed fitting for Goeltl and his 77 classmates to aspire to that belief, even choosing to use “iron sharpens iron,” as their senior class motto.
“We all like to be academically challenged,” fellow senior Kayiyn Shoemaker said. “We all kind of help each other to do the best that we can.”
But they never expected what it would truly come to mean until earlier this year when the Colorado Department of Education released the 2018 SAT scores.
In addition to the ACT, the SAT is a national exam that helps colleges make admissions decisions. The SAT is given to all Colorado high school students during their junior year. Students also take a preparation test their freshmen and sophomore years known as the PSAT.
It was this year’s senior class that broke the all-time state SAT record for the tests they took as juniors.
“I’m really proud of them,” said Liberty Common Principal Torgun Lovely. “And not just for the scores, but for who they are as people. They are amazing people in that class. They are wonderful human beings.”
Liberty Common’s 1322 average beat the previous top average of 1307, set by D’Evelyn High School in 2017. There is a total possible score of 1600. The state average is 1014.
In addition, all the test scores of the entire class — 78 students — were deemed valid, the only school with more than 23 students taking the test to achieve that accomplishment.
Senior Micaela McConahy wasn’t entirely surprised by the results, saying it’s what she’s come to expect from her classmates.
“Liberty facilitates an environment where it’s not uncool to be smart,” she said. “Our classmates push each other to be better through the things were involved in.”
Lovely said he’s expected great things from this class since he saw their state standardized test scores as middle schoolers. He’s been encouraging them since.
“This is particularly meaningful to me,” Lovely said. “I was tracking this class in the eighth grade. I looked at this class’ (state standardized test) scores. They were in line or a little bit better than the (ACT record breaking) class. I told them then, ‘If you stay together and play together, you win together.’ So as a class they could really achieve some pretty cool things. I told them if they wanted to, they could win a state championship in academics. A lot of them took that to heart, and to see them bring that to fruition, and achieve something significant is really meaningful.”
Liberty Common follows a college-preparatory model. It emphasizes instruction in math, science and engineering. It offers Latin and economics programs beginning in kindergarten and utilizes a student government/leadership program similar to the British House system, except students are not boarded. The setup encourages student communities.
Students are divided across grades into five houses named after the school’s five virtues — Domus Fortitudinis (Fortitude); Domus Gratitudinis (Gratitude); Domus Justitiae (Justice) Domus Prudentiae (Prudence); and Domus Temperantiae (Temperance).
The houses promote community, integration and student leadership. They allow under classmen to interact with upper classmen and encourage inclusion.
Shoemaker, who was home schooled through the eighth grade, said she came to Liberty Common in ninth grade to help her learn how to interact with others.
“I’m a bit of an introvert,” she said with a laugh. “The house system was a big part (of adjusting). I was not just welcomed in my own grade, but I was welcomed as a freshman by the seniors.”
Goeltl agreed, saying it’s a true community environment.
“Whether you’re a seventh grader or 12th grader, you form bonds of friendship you can’t quantify,” he said. “We are never working against each other. We all feel like we are just working toward a common goal to bring out the best in ourselves.”
The only thing that could possibly top the latest state title, the three said, is state titles for both boys and girls soccer this year.
“They can do it; they are pretty good,” Goeltl said, about a girls team that finished last year in first place in the Class 3A Patriot League, losing 2-1 to Vail Mountain in the state tournament. “That would be awesome.”
Regardless, Shoemaker said she was proud of all her classmates and what they’ve achieved already.
“No one ever set that as an expectation of us,” she said. “What our teachers and our parents and us as students set as expectations was always that we will do our best. I’m so incredibly proud to know we all did do our best and tried as hard as we could, and in doing so, we went so far.”