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.

Owed to My Mother

Happy Mothers Day! If you are one, you deserve more than a day. That goes for all mothers — ones who gave birth themselves, adopters, steps, grannies and aunts and big sisters who took over to fill a void, “bonus moms” of all kinds.

I once misunderstood something a friend said, talking about appreciation of mothers, and after a moment I realized she meant a poem, an ode. But I was off on my own thought. Ode to my mother! No, owed. To my mother? OK…

My life, for starters.

Something of a dry sense of humor, if I flatter myself. I owe that to her.

Reaching way back, I remember her reading at bedtime, those old stories. She took me into the pages, walking me into the soft golden pictures with her voice and all its many personalities. Sometimes I still go back there, when I think of those stories, or when I read them to my grandchildren.

Anna, about 1944Bacon and eggs before school on dark cold winter mornings, in long-ago days when these were good for you. Fried chicken on Sundays, potatoes and gravy and greens, meals together every night. It wasn’t just eating though; it was a family communion.

I owe to my mother the way I think about life. Attitude. “You decide how you feel. You don’t let things run you.” If the worst thing happens, you get up in the morning and you do what you have to do for the day. It doesn’t change you; you know who you are. You change it.

Confidence, doing things I didn’t think I could. She gave me that. The bicycle I rode for the first time was her old bike, handlebars tall as my shoulders. It was taken down from the rafters and fixed up for me when I was ready. Mom held me up and pushed, running behind. “Don’t let go!” I called out. She didn’t answer. Pedaling hard, I didn’t see her turn me loose. I don’t know that she ever did.

Respect for women. It came in jagged little bits sometimes. When I was older, once after a few beers with my brother in the kitchen, he talked of being afraid to do some fool thing or other and I called him a pussy. Mom stopped me cold. Not just that the word was vulgar and crude, and shouldn’t have been said in her presence. It offended her more than that. “Does that word mean weak? Women are weak? Or afraid? Women don’t have courage?” 

That thing about giving me my life, though, that’s the big one. She didn’t just give it to me and leave me to figure it out. She shaped it and gave it color and form.

“Try it, see if it works.”

“Just look at that sky. Isn’t that beautiful?”

Yes, that’s it, my life. Owed to my mother.

 


I wrote this essay when I was younger so you may have seen it before. It still rings true to me and brings back warm memories and appreciation. I miss my mom.