Kiszla: Biggest upset of Colorado prep football season? Refusing to let COVID-19 win.

PUEBLO – The last morning of a preparatory football season that the corona virus could not beat, came with the joyful sound of the howling of badgers. During warm-ups for a championship game that kicked off at 10 a.m., quarterback Trey Hines and his Limon High School teammates stretched their necks in the air, screaming until they chased away the COVID-19 clouds, if only for a few hours on a crisp December day.

“Often times we worry too much about wins and losses, rather than what football is and what the game does,” said Limon coach Mike O’Dwyer.

He led the Badgers to the 20th championship in the history of a proud Colorado town with two stoplights and 1,800 residents. “Not only for our team, but also for our school and our community, it was a big problem for us to be able to play football,” said O’Dwyer. “It has been a real blessing for us to at least be able to go out and put on the pads.”

On a Saturday when three Colorado state champions were crowned here, the real wins were in every hand-painted sign in the stands and every bump on the chest on the field. With all the little details that make football more than a game, CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green was able to declare that fighting all the frustrations and fears of a virus-ridden season was worth the fight.

COVID has stolen more than 3,000 lives in Colorado, not to mention the many joys that make life worth living. The Limon basketball team was on their way to the state semi-finals when the pandemic toppled the Final Four in March. Can you imagine the reaction when this same nasty virus forced the school into quarantine and shut down the football program for two weeks towards the end of the Badgers’ regular season?

“I was shocked,” Hines recalled.

The junior QB and his teammates persist. And now look at them: Hines’ touchdown run gave Limon a quick 14-0 lead. The unbeatable Badgers climbed to a trio and beat Strasbourg for the third year in a row with trophies at stake.

Block and tackle that? Fundamental to any state champion. But X’s and O’s can’t begin to describe what football means to good people in the Colorado plains when a pandemic blows through town, or how a prep team can be the shoulder to cry on when a teen loses their dad to a suspected suicide.

Football is love.

Football is the hug a linebacker gives his Strasburg teammate to squeeze away the pain of losing your last prep game. No athlete ever forgets the tire to drive home with friends for the last time.

When COVID security measures limit each school to 75 spectators scattered around the stands of a college stadium, football gulps down beer on a cold Saturday morning. “We’re just two drunken uncles in a pickup truck. Write that down, ”said Ben Davis, next to friend Levi Quandt. They toast every tackle from Strasburg linebacker Blake Coombs into the back of a Ford, giving them a panoramic view of the field from the parking lot.

More than a game? It’s when every Durango helmet is adorned with a “JG” sticker as a heartfelt vow from a close-knit community to lift one of its own helmets out of the struggles of a family tragedy.

“This team is fearless,” backup Durango receiver Ean Goodwin told me as fellow Demons gleefully lit up in celebration of their 21-14 victory over top-ranked Roosevelt in the Class 3A final. ‘These guys mean everything to me. They gave me a place to go and think about nothing but football. “

Justin Goodwin is believed to have committed suicide in late October. That’s why the Demons wore the initials JG behind the right ear hole of each helmet. A soccer family comes together through grief.

“Football is great, but it’s not everything,” said Durango coach David Vogt. “A state championship is great, but these kids have learned over the course of this year to deal with a lot of things that are bigger than themselves.”

At its best, football is a matter that causes a young man to get lost in something bigger than himself, making him feel empowered by the fraternity won through the sweat of a shared goal, even when the challenges of being young and scared return with tomorrow sunrise.

“Our daughters, we hug and love and we try to nurture. Sometimes we expect our sons to be tough men who don’t need that same kind of love. That’s the wrong way to look at it, ”said Dave Logan, whose 28th season as the most legendary prep coach in Colorado history ended with the Class 5A showdown between his Cherry Creek Bruins and Valor Christian.

To tell kids you love them, put your arm around them and impact them that way? I think high school students need that. Really. “

During the last ten quarters of football in a prep season, do you know that Coloradans refused to quit, which left a more lasting impression on me than any touchdown run?

It was a home-made poster draped on a chain-link fence for the 75 fans who rode 135 miles to see 39 young athletes representing the Strasburg Indians lose a match whose pain will disappear, unlike the friendships that are guaranteed to last forever. last.

The poster offered wise advice: Find your tribe. Love them hard.