Posted: Sunday December 05, 1999 09:32 AM
GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) -- With the number 70 emblazoned on their helmets and the memory of a slain teammate on their minds, the Rebels of Columbine High School on Saturday won their school's first state football title.
The championship victory wasn't just about bragging rights.
It honored a fallen teammate Matt Kechter, gunned down April 20 in the worst high school massacre in U.S. history. Kechter, who wore the number 70, would have been a senior and hoped to start for the Rebels as a lineman.
Chants of "We are Columbine" echoed from the stands Saturday afternoon as the Rebels plowed over perennial powerhouse Cherry Creek, winning the Class 5A title, 21-14.
The chant had become the school's unofficial motto since the two students opened fire in the school, killing 12 classmates, a teacher and then themselves.
"What we carried in our hearts, there aren't words for," said Coach Andy Lowry. "This is a game, and if we could bring those ... kids back, I would trade everything in the world for that."
"It's been a very difficult seven months for everyone," said Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis. "It's kind of fun to see kids smile, and just be kids."
An estimated 8,000 Columbine students and fans filled the stands Saturday, many with their faces painted with Columbine's blue and silver for the game.
"This game kind of means moving on," said Brandon Burgess, 18. "Matt's here in spirit, his family's here, and he's here in everybody."
School district spokeswoman Marilyn Saltzman said the team dedicated the season to Kechter because he would have been a member this year. Another player killed in the rampage, Isaiah Shoels, 18, would have graduated last spring.
DeAngelis said the team's success this year has helped in the healing process. The team last played in the state finals in 1981.
"So many of the football players have mentioned Matt Kechter's name," DeAngelis said earlier this week.
Linebacker Ryan Barrett, who was Kechter's best friend, was overwhelmed by the victory.
"There's no way to describe it," Barrett said. "You can win a game on emotion. We had it today. This whole season was dedicated to Matt and it was great to give something back to his family. There won't be any better feeling than to present his parents with a ring."