The October after the assault at their faculty that left 13 folks useless, together with teammate Matt Kechter, Columbine soccer misplaced to rival Pomona on a late area aim halfway by means of the 1999 common season.
The Rebels have been undefeated as much as that time, and the loss not at all derailed their desires of a primary state championship. However as participant Landon Jones defined, the setback allowed the true weight of the staff’s pursuit to sink in.
This was now not merely youngsters blocking and tackling and passing beneath Friday evening lights; it was a complete neighborhood behind a staff, a way of togetherness out of tragedy.
“That’s why that loss to Pomona was so crushing,” stated Jones, a junior fullback on the time. “It was the primary style any of us had gotten that season as to what it felt prefer to let our neighborhood down. We felt like we let down the Kechter household; we felt like we let down the college.
The Rebels rebounded from the loss, rattling off eight straight wins to finally declare the Class 5A state title and launch a soccer dynasty — and, beneath the management of head coach Andy Lowry, one thing far more lasting.
“He was in a position to instill in this system the truth that we have been going to honor these folks, however on the identical time one of the simplest ways we might honor them is by how we reside our lives,” assistant coach Tom Tonelli stated. “Our program started to play the sport for one thing past themselves, and regardless that I feel that worth was there earlier than the tragedy, it was strengthened afterward and turn out to be the pivotal factor that the whole lot else rested on.”
Kechter, a sophomore defensive lineman, was considered one of 4 folks related to the athletics division killed April 20, 1999. Ladies basketball coach Dave Sanders, volleyball captain Lauren Townsend and wrestler Isaiah Shoels have been additionally shot.
“If it’s not for Matt Kechter, I don’t imagine that 1999 state title staff occurs,” stated Ryan Barrett, Kechter’s finest buddy and a linebacker for Columbine. “We have been in a position to win soccer video games the place we weren’t essentially the very best staff, or the largest, quickest or strongest. However we had a lot coronary heart, and Matt’s passing gave us a better objective and an edge that no different staff had at the moment.”
“That ’99 staff epitomized the energy the entire faculty had,” stated Tonelli, who nonetheless teaches and coaches at Columbine. “It wasn’t simply 40 youngsters on a soccer staff that went out and beat the percentages. It was 2,000 youngsters within the faculty who beat the percentages by coming again, by rallying collectively. They have been keen to lean on one another and say, ‘We all know who we’re, and we all know what we stand for.’ That permeates even nonetheless as we speak.”
That spirit developed whilst Columbine’s athletic program was beneath a microscope as hypothesis swirled that the college’s “jock tradition” had created an atmosphere that led to the capturing.
One of many phrases Lowry usually makes use of to explain the 1999 season is “redemptive.” He was offended for a very long time, he stated, why these in search of an evidence the capturing “appeared responsible everybody however these two.”
From native information stories to shock jocks to the nationwide media — “Dissecting Columbine’s Cult of the Athlete”, a June 1999 Washington Submit headline learn — Insurgent athletics took a whole lot of warmth, and principal Frank DeAngelis, Lowry and Tonelli have been accused of being complicit in Columbine’s alleged bullying tradition.
All accusations that Kevin Land — Columbine’s athletic director on the time — calls fully unfair. He and DeAngelis described Columbine as a standard highschool, the place bullying actually occurred in pockets however was not the perpetrators’ driving motivation.
“Everyone was grabbing for any sort of reply, and the media wished responsible someone and put the accountability on someone’s again,” Land stated. “The athletes and coaches took a whole lot of unfavorable warmth, and the blame was undeserved. (The killers) didn’t simply shoot athletes. They shot whoever occurred to be of their method on the time.”
Because the soccer staff began spring camp that Could, they tried their finest to tune out the continuous criticisms. “We have been attempting to take care of the tragedy, going to funerals of our classmates, and on the identical time we have been getting blasted within the media,” Jones recalled.
In the meantime, Columbine’s women soccer staff was discovering its method again to the sphere, turning into the primary staff to renew their spring season after the capturing.
“We needed to resolve whether or not we have been going to proceed taking part in or finish the season proper there,” staff captain Angie Sanders (née Portincaso) stated. “We determined that if we ended the season and let one thing like that cease us from taking part in one thing we love, it’s virtually like we have been letting the hate win.”
The Rebels battled all the way in which to the state title recreation, the place they fell to Inexperienced Mountain 2-0, however coach Peter Horvath stated they knew that they had completed their aim just by being there.
“After we first obtained again on the sphere, we began speaking about getting our identification again, about getting our pleasure again, about character and being an inspiration to the neighborhood,” Horvath defined. “The occasions of the 20th principally stripped Columbine of an identification, and I feel athletically, we as coaches and as athletes felt it our accountability to sort of get that again.”
Coaches, prep foes assist therapeutic setbacks
The 1999 state title recreation runs by the women soccer and soccer groups helped the grieving Columbine neighborhood however heart-wrenching information simply saved coming.
In February 2000, two Columbine college students have been shot to demise in a Subway a number of blocks from the college. Then in Could, two weeks after the primary anniversary of the capturing, basketball star Greg Barnes dedicated suicide.
“(His suicide) had loads to do with the capturing,” former Columbine basketball coach Rudy Martin stated. “There’s no method anyone can show what diploma it was this, what diploma it was that, however Greg was within the science room with Dave Sanders, and he was with two different youngsters who have been killed … Imagine me, it affected him. He even talked about transferring, as a result of he didn’t need to stroll by means of these halls on daily basis.”
Barnes’ demise weighed closely on Martin, who left Columbine that summer season due to the emotional toll the tragedies had taken on him.
Employees who stayed, most famously DeAngelis who retired in 2014, helped information the method of therapeutic on the faculty.
“Frank’s want to remain there so long as he might, and to see the pre-Okay youngsters within the Columbine space graduate, was big,” stated Ed Woytek, who was Columbine’s athletic director from 2000-11. “That set the tone alongside along with his management and Andy’s management the place they at all times made certain the children knew about brotherhood. The coaches nonetheless instill that within the youngsters, as a result of the time period ‘brotherhood’ has been essential over the past 20 years.”
That character will get observed even now by folks exterior Columbine.
“Once I obtained to Pomona, we determined we have been going to mannequin ourselves after Columbine,” stated head soccer coach Jay Madden stated. “Each time you play Columbine, realize it’s going to be a battle. B]however on the finish of the day, we’re going to respect one another as a result of we each attempt to do issues in the identical kind so far as getting youngsters to behave the proper method and be good youngsters. That’s what their program has been constructed on.”
Denver Submit File
Timothy Nwachukwu, Particular to The Denver Submit
Seth McConnell, Particular to the Denver Submit
Donning a Insurgent uniform, modified eternally
It’s straightforward to see how the darkness of April 20, 1999, has permeated Columbine athletics to this present day.
There’s the Dave Sanders Memorial Match, a big-school annual fall softball custom named for the heroic trainer/coach who gave his life for his college students. There’s the Matt Ketcher Memorial Award, introduced every fall to a Columbine offensive lineman of excessive scholastic achievement. The softball staff nonetheless has ‘DS’ on their sleeves; the soccer staff nonetheless dons a No. 70 sticker on its helmets; and nobody will ever put on No. eight for the volleyball staff once more, which has been retired in honor of Townsend.
They’re all reminders, former Rebels softball coach Rick Bathtub stated, that placing on a Columbine uniform has been essentially completely different since that day 20 years in the past.
“Because the years glided by, youngsters would ask what the ‘DS’ stood for,” Bathtub stated. “I instructed my gamers, ‘You don’t must reside prior to now with what occurred to Columbine, however you’re right here, and it’s a part of what you might be.’ It doesn’t must be a foul half, however your accountability is to have the ability to clarify that ‘DS’ patch, who he was, why the sphere is called after him, why we must always reside life like him.”
Maybe essentially the most telling signal of the tragedy’s significance to Columbine’s present athletic pursuits — with college students who weren’t even alive on the time — is how the college has barely modified its emblem because the shootings.
As an alternative of a single star, Columbine’s insurgent head is now adorned with a 13-star circle.
“The whole lot in athletics that we do is about their legacy and the whole lot we do is constructed round 13 in a refined method,” former baseball coach and present trainer Robin Ortiz stated. “It was very a lot spoken about early on, and now it’s turn out to be a subliminal factor. However when folks ask, we at all times speak, and we speak in regards to the folks we misplaced.
“And we at all times honor them each time we play.”