Columbine

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the Columbine shooting. I was not living in Colorado in 1999, but everyone heard about Columbine. National news. Shocking. Unprecedented. Unthinkable. A month ago, another Colorado mass shooting. It was in Boulder, a King Soopers market. Do you even remember it?

A Colorado litany: Columbine. Denver. Bailey. Arvada. Colorado Springs. Littleton. Aurora. Centennial. Colorado Springs again, and then again. Thornton. STEM School in Highlands Ranch. Aurora again. Boulder.

Columbine was not the first in our state, but it raised a terrible bar. My neighbor Ken Fischer was dog-tired that day 22 years ago, as was his whole Lakewood Police Department team. They’d had an extra-tough shift the night before, but that’s another story. He was doing some hard work on an off-duty day, wrestling and sweating with pulling stumps for a friend, when he heard the call. 

Ken writes for my neighborhood blog, as do I on occasion. In this story, he tells of – what was it, a kind of compensation? A miracle? – seemingly built out of inspiration and willpower. Or maybe it was something dealt out by “a just and brooding God.”

Republished with permission.


By Ken Fischer

1999. The following fall, after that terrible day in April, the Columbine football team took the field. They were not great, but won enough to get to the playoffs.

My sector of Lakewood had the Jeffco Stadium in just about its geographic center. I would often tactically position myself at or near the stadium on Thursday and Friday nights for the rowdy high school events. My dispatcher was aware of crowd noise so she often called me on cell phone with anything critical in nature. Pretty routine, usually just being watchful, but there was one game that I will always remember as something special, almost transcendent.

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado

Now there was something eerie about the Columbine team. These were the lads that carried one of their own to his final rest several months earlier. Their school was still undergoing repair so they worked through the hurt and anger to do something constructively normal: play football.

Columbine had never been any great shakes on the gridiron. Finishing near .500 was pretty good for the program. This year the team had no real stars and no standouts, and seemed to be a very quiet bunch. They took on a county rival in the quarterfinals and came from behind to squeak out a victory. A surprise. They were forecast to break even that year and winning a playoff game was a big notch on the doorframe.

Per custom, each team passed at midfield, shook hands then boarded the buses back to their school. Except Columbine. They had no school and would not until the following year. They shared time at Chatfield High, their sister school further south in the county.

Just after this victory and handshake, Columbine players and coaches assembled under the south goal posts. Very quiet, no hoorah, no cheers, no one but the team. I was standing on the perimeter with the Columbine principal, Frank DeAngelis. I began to say something to him in passing. He gave me a sign to be silent. I would.

They spoke in brief statements. No game analysis. An air of commitment. No one interrupted anyone else.

Photo from Columbine Football on Twitter, @CHSRebelball, 2018 Text: "Game Day. Tomorrow is promised to no one..."

Photo from Columbine Football on Twitter, @CHSRebelball, 2018

When all who wanted to speak spoke, they calmly walked to their bus. I had never seen anything like this in athletics. This was a team with a purpose.

The following week would be tougher. They were predicted to lose by at least two touchdowns to a far superior Boulder Fairview team that had experienced a fantastic season losing only one possibly two games. Fairview had a quarterback passer who had all the tools. He was a “young Elway.”

The game progressed as expected. Columbine held strong through three quarters but could not manage much scoring. Fairview was about eighteen points up starting the fourth quarter.

I was prowling the Fairview sidelines as Columbine pushed down the field and scored. No big deal. Two scores up, just run the clock.

Fairview turned it over in uncharacteristic fashion and here came Columbine, silent and deep.

Again, the ground game. Columbine scored in about six plays and were one score down with about four minutes left.

Fairview attempted a run, lost ground. Columbine timeouts employed. Fairview punts. Good runback by Columbine who scored two plays later. Still silent, confident, committed. No mistakes.

With a blue chip passer and two minutes to score from mid field, it would be highly possible to get to the end zone. The kid who was setting passing records all year threw two terrible incomplete passes. During a timeout, with just seconds left, I turned to hear a brief conversation between coach and quarterback. The strategy was set. Just do it. Run it in if you have to.

The all-state quarterback had a look that betrayed a feeling of something else at work here.

Fairview ran once and threw a pass into the dirt to lose to a “nothingburger” team in blue that could not be stopped by any dynamic in any playbook.

Columbine Memorial. Photo by Denverjeffrey, CC BY 3.0, Link

A stunned crowd silently departed for the Boulder Flatirons, not quite believing what they had just seen.

A calm, deliberate, committed bunch of young men in Columbine blue gathered under the goal post. They recommitted the season to their friend and fallen athlete, Matt Kechter, as they had done for every game throughout the season.

Columbine went on to beat Cherry Creek the next week for the state championship. Not easily but convincingly, and well enough. Enough to become state football champions for that year.

That team still frequently revisits the Columbine teams of ensuing years. They stand with the quiet authority of dedication and unity, to offer inspiration and support to those playing a great game with great comrades.


Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Colorado Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of the Southern Gables neighborhood, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business. 

2020

What a year, right? I hear friends wishing for it to end, as if the New Year will flip a magic switch and 2021 will bring an end to “this terrible year.” We might not want to admit it in the days before that “Happy New Year,” but getting over 2020 will be gradual and forever incomplete. Those who have died will long be mourned. Many businesses won’t come back and many jobs are lost forever. We will never return to many of our old easy habits. Coping mechanisms have emerged that will cast long shadows, some dark. There will be post-traumatic stress effects. Office space, work hours, transportation patterns, conferences and conventions, birthday parties: all will return in distorted form. 2020 gets the blame.

But who knows, if not for 2020…

What Good Might Not Have Started

Who knows what good might not have started
If we had all stayed the same way,
Enmeshed in routines done dull-hearted
Just trudging half blind through each day.

This year that has seemed so accursed
Has brought us a new point of view
Would we never or ever have noticed
The people we praise now anew?

The nurses, the doctors and teachers,
The drivers, and grocers and clerks,
The helpers and healers who stepped up
To make sure that everything works.

And food banks that came into being
Where never before angels went
With generous souls freely serving
To people who stretched to make rent.

Admiringly we call them “the front line”
The people that we never knew
But angels appear when you need them
And COVID has brought them in view.

I wonder if we would have squandered
Our hours and minutes away
Unfeeling and mute as we wandered
Complacent in each passing day.

The crisis has made us refocus
On things that are precious and dear
Like casual hugs and cheek-kisses
And missing them made some things clear,

Like valuing love and each other,
Giving service to others in need,
And loving the ones we hold closely,
Being thankful in thought, word, and deed.

Guest Blog: Not Living in Fear

The President of the United States said, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

Fearless. I know some fearless people. One is Piper Beatty Welsh. I met her through a mutual acquaintance and shared interests. She is a lawyer and an advocate for Cystic Fibrosis research. She is a survivor of that disease and cancer, as well as lung transplants. I have featured her wise and passionate articles in this space before, and I just can’t help sharing this one too. The President says not to live in fear. This is important.

Guest Blog Article by Piper Beatty Welsh

So I’m gonna be honest: the public conversation around “living in fear” of COVID has raised some interesting points for me as a person with (now multiple forms of) chronic, potentially fatal illness. The irony here is that I personally have used similar language before to explain my own life choices — although in absolute fairness to myself I don’t think I’ve ever been so callous as to label people who take more precautions than myself as “living in fear.” But whatever, I digress.

To me there’s a very big difference between refusing to “live in fear” and taking reasonable steps to avoid preventable harm. And, yes, I’ve had real life experience with both. For example, when I was faced with a projected 3 to 6 MONTH life expectancy last year (not the first time in my life I’ve been handed that sort of diagnosis) I looked my doctors straight in the eye and told them that I’d be taking a trip to Japan with my husband in the middle of chemo therapy. We flew literally around the world to a place where neither of us spoke a word of the language in the middle of a course of extreme chemo, with an IV line hanging out of my chest and a carry on bag stuffed to the brim with medical supplies for the simple reason that Japan was a lifelong dream and we wanted to experience it together, and we had good reason to believe that would be our last chance. So we spoke with my doctors and had all the necessary conversations — not to ask “permission” but to make sure that we had all the information and advice we needed to make smart choices and stay as safe as possible within the boundaries of our personal risk choices. At the time, we chuckled that the decision was “so Piper,” so like the woman who toted IV meds to law school classes and kept her treatment machines in her office at the firm so she didn’t have to go on disability. I’ve always taken pride in my decisions to prioritize my dreams while still managing my health, and while I know I’ve made mistakes along the way, it’s still something I value deeply.

Fast forward a year and suddenly random strangers on the internet — folks who in some cases have never faced a true medical emergency — are sitting behind their keyboards gleefully calling out all the “cowards” who “live in fear” of a “simple cold.” Mind you, it’s a simple cold that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and increased our annual death rate by approximately 20% in this country, but hey, who needs facts? According to these brilliant online philosophers, there are only two choices: live life exactly as you did before this virus, or “live in fear.” No other options exist. There is never any reasonable middle ground.

But here’s the thing: most folks who have truly stared death in the face will tell you that it’s not that simple. Living life to the hilt in a mortal world actually means taking responsibility for your choices and being smart enough to know which boundaries are worth pushing. The greatest climbers in the world will tell you that they’re highly aware of the risks they take on the side of that mountain. They spend tons of time planning their route, examining their equipment, practicing their moves, and learning from experts before they ever place a hand on that rock. The great ones don’t ignore the risks, they adjust and work with them to achieve their most important goals anyway. Same with skydivers or extreme skiers or race car drivers or deep-sea divers or the woman with breast cancer who desperately wants to attend her kid’s band concert despite immunosuppression and intense treatment. These folks make a plan, they understand the risks, they prepare themselves and their bodies beforehand, and then they do what is most important to them WHILE protecting their own life and the lives of those they love, because THAT’S what truly living is all about.

So pardon me, keyboard warriors, if I choose to stay home instead of hanging at the bar — that’s not an experience I’m willing to take large risks to enjoy when so many safer socialization options exist. And excuse me for a moment if I opt to follow the expert advice when I go out in public — my lifetime of medical experience tells me that public health is worth protecting. And please control your rage when I dare to wear a mask in your presence — I hate to offend, but my life means more than your delicate feelings. And don’t be surprised when you come at me with your rantings about “living in fear” and being a coward and you start to detect a slight smirk behind that mask of mine — because after all I’ve been through it’s gonna take a heck of a lot more than your silly words to bring me down.

And I’m not afraid to say it.

Be brave, beautiful people.