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Resilience and Unity Characterize 2020 Football Season
The fact that it happened at all is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the 2020 Pueblo School District 60 football season.
On Saturday, the Pueblo South Colts fell to the undefeated Roosevelt Roughriders 49-19 in a Class 3A state semifinal contest: the final stand in a gridiron campaign in which the most ominous opponent was an unseen and persistent virus.
Like every other aspect of life, COVID-19 firmly dug its talons into high school athletics.
Originally, football was to be played in the spring, but a surprise decision from CHSAA and the Governor’s Response Team in September put it back on the table for the fall.
With strict protocols in place, including a shortened season, and with uncertainty a lingering concern, the 2020 campaign bore little resemblance to those of years past.
This was most evident during two long-standing and cherished rivalries: the Bell Game and the Cannon Game.
Normally drawing thousands of spirited spectators to Dutch Clark Stadium, with pre-game buildup reaching a feverish pitch, both games were played before but a smattering of onlookers scattered throughout a historic arena devoid of its usual pomp and celebration.
What remained unaffected by COVID-19, however, was the heart and drive of those D60 coaches and players determined to squeeze every ounce of merit and value from a football season without precedent or benchmark.
Often times, the greatest obstacle was not winning the game but getting to the point that the game was able to be played at all.
"This season was a challenge in setting up the stadium following all state, CHSAA and county variances, from sidelines to stands,” explained Rick Macias, the district’s director of athletics. “So many people need to be thanked for the extra time put in to meet the guidelines: district athletics’ administrative assistant Dianne Carrillo; our stadium, district security and clean-up/sanitizing crews; Bob Lawson, Phil Amaro, Anthony Gonzales and their crews; and Mary Bocchietti and her crew for making the stadium signs.
“And last but not least, our awesome Donny Ruybal and the production crew. It was all a huge district team effort and we pulled it through.”
For South Head Coach Ryan Goddard, who saw his Colts mount back-to-back state title runs after winning the championship in 2017, the most impactful lesson emerging from the 2020 campaign centered around resilience and unity.
“For kids living in a pandemic, there are weekly and even daily challenges,” Coach Goddard said. “And they had to learn quickly that things had to change in order for them to move forward with the season.”
As football is a team sport, sacrifices have to be made for the good of all.
But even more so during the time of COVID-19.
“Getting 16- and 17-year-old kids to stay at home is enough of a challenge,” Coach Goddard continued. “We asked our kids to be smart about where they went and what they did. And as a result, they learned so much about playing a special and important role in something that’s bigger than just one person.”
The hardships imposed by COVID-19 on both the athletic and education process will, Coach Goddard believes, ready his Colts for the obstacles of life itself.
“To have a tough situation staring you in the face, and having to face it every day, is teaching our kids that while things aren’t perfect or fair, if you work together as a team, you can carry on and make the best of what isn’t an ideal situation,” he said.
“The lessons they’ve learned -- to be resilient, smart and make sacrifices as part of a team and family – will carry on forever.”
At Central High School, Head Coach Kris Cotterman said this season forced the Wildcats to “learn how to adapt. It wasn’t easy, but then again, life isn’t easy.
“But the important thing is they got to play football and got some games in. And they stuck with it, and for that, I’m proud of them.”
Jeff Wilkerson, head coach of the Centennial Bulldogs, said one of the strongest life lessons his players learned is “controlling only what you can control. This season, we went through some things, like a quarantine for two weeks, that we had no control over.
“So the biggest thing is being able to fight in the face of adversity.”
From a coaching standpoint, Wilkerson believes a lack of preparatory offseason, weight room training, and attendance at a university camp hampered Centennial’s efforts.
“But at least our seniors got to play and enjoy their final season: even if it was shortened,” he added.
At East High School, the Eagles were led by first-year Head Coach Tony Valdez.
“It’s not what I had in mind at all,” Coach Valdez said of his inaugural season at the helm. “It was a big learning experience, and the biggest thing I will take away heading into next year’s season is the importance of maximizing the time you do have to prepare.”
For the whole of the East school community, this year’s season revealed the truth that nothing can be taken for granted.
“Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and that should make us thankful and grateful for all the opportunities we have in front of us,” Coach Valdez said. “And I’m proud of the way the guys stepped up in the face of adversity. Their attitude and effort were great all season.
“There’s going to be bumps along the way, because that’s how life is. The important thing is to keep the faith and stay the course.”