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Vidakovich column: A week that seemed like an eternity

During my senior year at Glenwood Springs High School, our much-anticipated basketball season began on the usual mid-November day in 1978. Our season held an abundance of promise, even though we were kicking off the new campaign minus a couple of starters and some reserve players who were still involved in Glenwood’s successful football run through the playoffs.

We were aware that if the football team advanced all the way to the state championship game, our first basketball contest would fall on the night before the title tilt. Moffat County was scheduled for our home opener, and we all knew we could take them even if we were a bit shorthanded.

The football players held up their end of the bargain and were to play the Valley Vikings in Glenwood on the first Saturday of December. So, it was going to be a basketball Friday and a football Saturday for Demon fans to satisfy their sports appetite.

Or so we thought.

I suspected something was amiss when I saw the look on Coach Chavez’s face as he called us all together to begin that Monday afternoon practice session. The words came slowly and almost in an apologetic tone as Coach informed us the administration of GSHS had decided to postpone the basketball game for a week in order to keep the spotlight on the football team. Coach knew that even missing a few key players, we could still mop the floor with Moffat, but he wanted to start the season with the entire team together, not fragmented.

None of us were real pleased with this decision, especially myself, Kevin Flohr and Rick Eccher, who had worked our tails off and counted the days to that first game.

We told Coach how we felt about the decision and pleaded with him for a reversal. We even went so far as to half-speed our effort the first part of practice until he stopped the action and set us all straight in a diplomatic way.

Following practice, I remember foolishly acting childish while bumping into some of the football players who we shared a locker room with, and brushing by them without so much as a word. I was miffed. They could have their glory, but why were we being denied our moment?

That Saturday, the Demons won the 2A state football championship by easily defeating Valley on a snowy winter day in Glenwood, and the following Friday night, with our full group together, we sent Moffat reeling 98-49.

Of course I rooted on the football team, as I always did. I was glad they won and that we started the season the next week with a full compliment of Demons.

I vividly remember how mad and disappointed I was at losing a week of my senior season way back when. I can’t even begin to imagine how the athletes must feel now, having lost entire seasons of their high school career.

I’m glad the kids will be back in the arena very soon now and get the chance to live out their high school dreams. One week was unbearable to me as a senior, and I admire the youngsters now who have continued to wait and work for their moment to shine.

It’s almost here, so keep believing. I’m excited for all of you!

Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com

Roaring Fork’s Lindgren signs to play college hoops at Iowa’s Coe

Roaring Fork High School senior Maya Lindgren has committed to play college basketball at Coe College in Iowa.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Maya Lindgren had always considered herself “more of a softball girl,” until she started getting some serious looks on the basketball court during her junior season at Roaring Fork High School last year.

“I’ve always played both sports … throughout high school, but when I started getting a little bit of interest from (basketball) coaches, it made me think, hey, maybe I am good enough for this,” Lindgren said.

That “this” ended up being a letter of commitment signed during the winter holiday break to play basketball for NCAA Division III Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The dual-sport student-athlete was named to the 3A Western Slope League All-Conference first team for softball as one of two Carbondale players on the Basalt Longhorns team last fall.

And, it was her impressive stats on the hardwood during the 2019-20 basketball season — 12.8 points per game (including multiple 25+ point games), a 38% shooting percentage, and 295 total points — that earned her a first-team All-Conference selection for basketball, as well.

Maya Lindgren looks to go baseline in 2019-20 season action at Roaring Fork High School.
John Stroud/Post Independent file

Lindgren had offers from several different colleges, but she said Coe seemed to be the best fit both academically and athletics-wise.

“It’s huge, honestly,” Lindgren said. “I’ve always wanted to be able to play at the collegiate level. I just think it’s really cool to be able to pursue one of the things I love after high school … I’m just really proud of myself.”

Lindgren enters her senior basketball season as the Rams’ starting point guard and team captain, an honor she was bestowed her junior year by Roaring Fork head coach Juan Quintero.

“One of the things we always talk about is being really positive with each other as teammates, and that’s something Maya does well,” Quintero said. “She’s been a great leader for the team, and really helps the other girls out on the court and on the sideline.”

Talent-wise, “Maya is one of most skilled players I’ve seen in 3A basketball,” Quintero said. “Her skill level off the dribble is by far the best in our league, and last year she really came out of her shell and showed that leadership ability, too.”

Lindgren has played varsity most of her four years at RFHS, and has been playing basketball since elementary school in the Carbondale youth recreation league and at Carbondale Middle School.

Born and raised in Carbondale, she is the daughter of Ann and Olle Lindgren.

Maya said she’s looking forward to her senior season at Roaring Fork, even with all of the COVID-19 public health protocols that will be among the challenges.

“We lost some talented girls (to graduation) last year, but I’m excited for some of these younger girls to come in and have a chance to step up and take some of the weight for the team,” Lindgren said.

Formal practices begin Monday, but the informal practices have been going well, she said.

“We’re working really well as a team,” she said. “With COVID, we all have to make sure we’re putting ourselves in smart situations and not risking the team.”

She’s also looking forward to the opportunity to play basketball with her younger sister, Nora, who is a freshman member of the Rams this season.

“That’s really exciting,” she said.

“One of the things I need to work on is the mental game,” she added. “Basketball is a really mental sport, so part of it for me is getting mentally and physically prepared for the college level.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

On the Fly column: First rod in your quiver

When you work in a fly shop, the question we answer the most is “What should I look for when it comes to my first fly rod?” For the person new to this sport, the number of different rods, weights, lengths and actions can be daunting, to say the least. Like everything else in this world, you can keep it simple or make it as complicated as all get-out.

To make it easy on yourself, look for a 9-foot, five-weight rod for most trout fishing in the Roaring Fork Valley. You can fish ponds, lakes, creeks, streams and rivers here with that single rod. Five-weights can effectively fish dry flies, nymphs and streamers with ease. Most rods these days are “fast action,” meaning stiff versus soft and flexible. Medium- to fast-action rods are perfect for novices who are learning the different casts for these fishing techniques.

Novices also ask about reels and lines to add to their rod selections. Reels typically come in different sizes, and any fly shop can help advise you when it comes to proper size selection. Most companies use a number system, and sizes 1.5 to 2 are usually right on the money.

Fly lines are even more complicated than rods, so keep it simple and select a weight-forward floating line in the proper weight (Five weight rods require five weight lines, etc.). Yes, there are intermediate sinking, full sinking and plenty of other options, but a floating line is really all you need to get started.

Once you start to master this sport, you’ll want some different rods for different situations. A soft and light two-weight is a bit more fun to cast on small streams to small fish, and a heavier six- or seven-weight is optimal for throwing large, heavy streamers. You’ll get there, but for now, find a reasonable five-weight and find some willing fish.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

Conquering Hero: Hailey Swirbul takes big steps toward catching world’s skiing elite

Hailey Swirbul on Dec. 27, 2019, in Aspen. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

There might be part of Hailey Swirbul that is finally beginning to believe she belongs. The 22-year-old cross-country skier is coming off quite a stretch with the U.S. ski team, one that includes her first career World Cup podium and a successful go in the notorious Tour de Ski.

Both are signs the Basalt High School graduate and former Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club athlete has taken that step up to the world’s elite.

“I’ve kind of proved to myself that I can do that,” Swirbul said of being able to hang with the sport’s top athletes. “The more time I spend in Europe on the World Cup and the more time I spend around those top girls the less intimidating it becomes for me. I think that’s a huge factor.”

CONQUERING THE PODIUM

Back home for a couple of weeks before returning to Europe for the conclusion of the season, Swirbul was able to reflect on the past month and what it’s meant for her career. The first major step was taken Dec. 13 when Swirbul, a first-year member of the national A team, finished third in a 10-kilometer freestyle in Davos, Switzerland.

Even with a smaller-than-usual field, the race was a first career World Cup podium for Swirbul, made more special by the fact that teammate Rosie Brennan won for the second time in as many days, the first two World Cup victories of the 32-year-old Olympian’s career.

“That was definitely pretty special and it was cool to have Rosie win that and be able to see that’s the person I’ve been training with all summer and she’s right there and she’s the best in the world on this day,” Swirbul said. “It’s a little bittersweet to me because it wasn’t the full field, but that’s always an easy mentality to fall into … I’m trying to work on that and appreciate it for what it was and take some confidence knowing I can hang with some of those top girls now, which is cool.”

CONQUERING THE TOUR

From Davos, Swirbul joined the Americans at the Tour de Ski. The Tour de France-style stage race was created in 2006 and featured eight races over 10 days and has become one of the most grueling events on the cross-country calendar. Even finishing the race is seen as an accomplishment.

For Swirbul, this year’s Tour de Ski was her first and she entered the first stage — the first three stages were held in Val Müstair, Switzerland, before crossing into Italy — with a lot of trepidation.

“I’d heard a lot of horror stories going into it,” she said. “I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea if I would be bad at this many races or great or whatever. After the first couple of days I was, ‘I’m actually in this, I’m doing OK.’ So I set a goal to try and get a top 20 by the end and I barely pulled that off. That was pretty cool to be able to achieve that for myself. I’m just happy I got to try and see what it’s like and learn for the future.”

Swirbul called the Jan. 3 third stage “probably one of the best races of my life” and paved the way for an overall finished of 18th in the Tour de Ski, third best among the U.S. women. The cherries on top included Brennan’s sixth-place overall finish and of course Jessie Diggins, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist, who finished first to become the first North American to win the race in its 15-year history.

“It’s cool to be part of a team that is that strong and that powerful. I definitely can recognize that and see it that way,” Swirbul said. “It was pretty inspiring to see Rosie and Jessie just dominate, honestly, especially for the couple of days there in the middle. It’s cool because those gals, they are not unattainable. They are amazing skiers, but I can see that level, I can see how they got there.”

CONQUERING HISTORY

These results have the U.S. women performing at a level they never have on the World Cup. Until Diggins and the now-retired Kikkan Randall combined to win gold in 2018, the only other Olympic medal by an American, man or woman, in cross-country skiing had been Bill Koch’s silver in 1976.

Hailey Swirbul competes in a past season. Courtesy photo.

For the most part, the U.S. has hardly been more than a blip on the sport’s radar going back decades. But Diggins, Brennan and now Swirbul are among those looking to change the narrative.

“The more times you can do that and practice that and be around those really strong athletes, it makes it feel more attainable,” Swirbul said.

Entering the weekend, Diggins sits first in the overall World Cup standings, with her best career overall finish having been second during the 2018 season when she came up just shy of the globe to Norway’s Heidi Weng.

Brennan is currently third in the overall and first in the distance standings, while Swirbul is third among American women sitting in 20th in the overall standings (17th in distance, 21st in sprint). Sophie Caldwell Hamilton — the wife of Aspen’s own Simi Hamilton, a member of the men’s A team — is ranked 26th in the overall.

CONQUERING THE WORLD

Next up for Swirbul is the U23 World Championship, scheduled for Feb. 8-14 in Vuokatti, Finland. This will be the final year she’s able to compete in the event and is eyeing a strong farewell. She’s raced at U23 the past two years, her best finish being fifth as part of a relay last winter in Germany.

“I definitely have personal goals for myself that I’d love to achieve,” Swirbul said. “I’d really love to be on the podium there. But I don’t feel a ton of external pressure.”

After U23 worlds, Swirbul will regroup with the rest of her team at the 2021 World Championships that begin Feb. 22 in Oberstdorf, Germany. This will be her first time representing the U.S. at worlds, which is held every two years and along with the Olympics is the sport’s greatest standalone competition.

Swirbul doesn’t yet know if she’ll get any starts at worlds, but she looks forward to playing whatever part she can get.

“Whether I’m able to help out by actually racing on that day or not, I think our team has a really good shot at a relay medal. That would be really cool to be part of, whether I’m on the cheer squad or the start line,” she said. “This has been a really important year for me to remember to take a deep breath and realize it’s just another race. Any of these races, it’s just another start line and I know that if I can do what I know how to do and just go hard, it will usually be a decent effort.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Jokic, Nuggets hold off Curry, Warriors for 114-104 win

DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half to help Denver overcome Stephen Curry’s sharp shooting as the Nuggets held off the Golden State Warriors 114-104 on Thursday night.

Jokic also had 14 rebounds and 10 assists for his 46th career triple-double. The big man entered averaging a triple-double and leading the NBA in assists.

“I think he’d definitely be in the MVP conversation, which is entirely too early to talk about,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “That’s the kind of impact he’s had on the game every single night.”

Will Barton and Jamal Murray each added 17 points on a night when seven Nuggets scored in double figures.

Curry finished with 35 points on 14-of-23 shooting. He hit five 3-pointers to give him 2,545 for his career. Curry is 15 from tying Reggie Miller for second place on the league’s all-time list. Miller eagerly counted down Curry’s made 3s throughout the TNT broadcast. Ray Allen is first with 2,973.

“Even though he had 35, we made some things tough for him,” Malone said. “We were able to get some stops.”

Limited to four shots in the first half, a more aggressive Jokic took over in the third quarter and helped the Nuggets amass a 14-point advantage. But no lead is safe with Curry & Co. around.

The Warriors kept things interesting down the stretch. One of Jokic’s biggest plays was a steal and assist on Monte Morris’ basket with 5:11 remaining that allowed Denver to extend the lead back to 14.

“It’s just a matter of our team connecting and figuring out who we are and what we are,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re not really in sync yet. That’s going to take time.”

There was a little bit of everything in the first half, when Denver led by as many as 17. Leading the list were a flying dunk by Bol Bol, Jokic’s reverse slam on Warriors rookie James Wiseman and a four-point play from Curry.

“We’ve got to be better,” Curry said of the defensive effort. “It doesn’t matter what the adjective is. We’ve got to be better.”

Rifle High School welcomes one of its own as new athletics director

New Rifle High School Athletic Director Chris Bomba.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

There’s no better time than now to focus on what truly matters.

“I think with anything like this — and I try to have this attitude my whole life — is that you always have two options,” Chris Bomba said. “You can either let it beat you down and keep you down, or you can find the positives in it and try to drive the right direction.”

“What’s positive right now? We have basketball and we have wrestling,” he added. “There are states out there that are canceling.”

Bomba, a former Western State (now Western Colorado University) thrower originally from Moffat County, started this week as Rifle High School’s new athletics director, taking over for Damon Wells. He’s now at the helm of helping to navigate Garfield District Re-2 sports through some of the most unique circumstances known to modern-day athletics in Colorado.

If there’s an activities administrator out there in the U.S. who isn’t inundated with meetings with fellow athletic directors, state officials on yet another COVID-19 update or season schedule tweaks, they’re probably not doing their job.

But the 42-year-old Rifle High School head track coach and science teacher maintains a positive outlook, not just toward his new role as athletics director, but for the students recently given the opportunity to enjoy their last hurrah before graduating.

Jan. 18 — the first official practice day of Season B sports across the state — couldn’t come any sooner.

“I lived through track last year when it got canceled,” Bomba said. “For the seniors, that was their last chance at state. And the crying? That was so hard. So for us to be able to have a season … I’m beside myself.”

“It’s awesome.”

Bomba’s story takes place just about 90 miles up the road, in Craig. It was then, growing up a Bulldog, he was instilled with the inspiration to pursue a life of physical competition.

“I had a teacher in middle school that told me I needed to stick with sports,” he said. “It was one of the best things anybody could tell me. Sports have just been a mainstay in myself because of the positive things that I’ve gotten out of it.”

A 1997 graduate of Moffat County High School, Bomba would spend his time in high school learning to overcome adversity in varsity Bulldogs track and football.

“We had great coaches, we had great teammates at that time” he said. “We pushed ourselves to be the best. And if you weren’t — if you were slacking? It wasn’t like people were jerks about it, they were just like, C’mon, man … let’s go.’”

“We built ourselves up and worked our tails off to do the things we did.”

Bomba went on to represent Moffat County for Western State, throwing two years for the Mountaineers. But it was right after graduation when he got his first taste of coaching.

Bomba said he’d coach two years at Western before deciding the $2,000-a-year paycheck wasn’t going to cut it, so he took up a full-time position in Cedaredge, coaching middle school basketball and football. He also helped coach high school track and football.

Then, around 2010, Bomba moved to Garfield County, where he began teaching at Rifle Middle School. He’d also start coaching volleyball, basketball and football.

And, for the past five years, Bomba has been head coach of Rifle High School Track and Field.

Rifle High School Principal John Arledge said he was excited to announce Bomba’s new position as athletic director.

“Chris comes to us with experience as a successful head track coach and someone that has experience at both the middle and high school level athletics,” he recently wrote to RHS staff. “Chris was a college track athlete at Western State and was also a successful high school athlete coming from Moffat County.

Arledge also described Bomba as an outstanding science teacher who had served as a special education teacher at the Rifle Middle School.

“We are lucky to have such a qualified candidate that was here internally, and it is our hope that RHS welcomes Chris in his new capacity,” Arledge wrote.

Bomba said such an undertaking during such weird times is something he’s ready for; that the challenges ahead will be tough now, but will make life a lot easier in the future.

“I think it’s going to make me — for me, personally — a stronger person,” he said. “And I think it’s gonna make our kids — even though they don’t see it yet — stronger. It’s going to be a great story and it’s going to be a great story for your kids later on in life.”

“And next year, if it’s a normal year? Next year’s going to be easy.”

rerku@postindependent.com

Colorado High School Activities Association directives behind basketball mask requirement

The Garfield County District Re-2 school board was met with several public comments Monday regarding how the district will move forward with winter sports safety rules.

“My son is in seventh grade, and this would’ve been his first year to have an opportunity to play basketball for his school,” Andrea Murr stated in a letter sent to the school board. “He was excited to do so. However, as soon as he heard he would have to wear a mask, he said he would not play.”

With the first games of “Season B sports” — ice hockey, girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, wrestling and girls swimming — slated for Jan. 25, some athletes will be required to wear masks during game play. In addition, the games themselves will be limited to 50 spectators, 24 team participants and essential personnel, which includes coaches, referees and scorekeepers, among others.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there are a few exemptions to the mask rule during games and matches, but basketball is not among them.

“… we will only exempt athletes from the statewide indoor mask order when they are actively involved in wrestling, spirit, and aquatics, and masks remain required when they are not actively participating, for example when the athlete is between events,” the CDPHE stated in the letter, which regarded the approval of a statewide variance to allow live sports.

Re-2 officials confirmed on Monday the upcoming COVID-19 rules they aim to follow during live game play is in fact being implemented by the Colorado High School Activities Association, which is under the direction of the CDPHE. The regulations also follow Garfield County’s level orange dial metric.

Another comment questioned whether wearing a mask during vigorous exercise is a safe practice, stating that Garfield County commissioners, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization advise against it.

“It is child abuse,” Sherronna Bishop said over a video communications broadcast of the meeting. “They know we shouldn’t be doing it, they know it’s dangerous.”

During discussion, Re-2 board member Katie Mackley said that if the district does not in fact follows the COVID-19 guidelines, it could be problematic.

“If we choose to not follow these guidelines, no one will come play us,” she said.

CHSAA does have the power to penalize any individual or team under its jurisdiction if they’re caught not following the rules put in place. Director of facilities John Oldham said this could include barring a team from participating in postseason play.

“Therefore, we have to follow the rules of CHSSA or we are not allowed to participate in sports,” board member Tom Slappey said.

Mackley encouraged parents to take their energies to the CDPHE to try and lobby for looser restrictions. She used the NCAA as an example, saying they test their players for COVID-19 on a regular basis.

Until restrictions are loosened, the general consensus is to follow the rules to avoid being penalized.

“If we really put our children at the base of this debate and we use common sense, it would tell me that in order to get any stability to our children that we can, that we mask up and we play,” board member Meryia Stickler said. “Do I like it? No. But I want our children to have as much opportunity for stability of their normal activities as we can possibly give them.”

Slappey agreed.

“If we can find a way to keep our spectators, plus our participants safe, we can find a way to make this work,” he said. “ … I’m not asking people to like it, I’m not asking people to understand it … and instead of working against us, work with us.”

District Re-2 is now in the process of developing fan protocols for live games, said Oldham.

rerku@citizentelegram.com

‘I just felt alive’: Mikaela Shiffrin gets her first slalom victory in more than a year

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Flachau, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

FLACHAU, Austria — Not known for exuberant victory celebrations, Mikaela Shiffrin let out a loud scream this time after crossing the finish line.

Shiffrin’s victory in a night slalom Tuesday was unlike most of her previous 67 World Cup wins.

In the last slalom before next month’s world championships, Shiffrin ended a year-long victory drought in her strongest discipline and earned her 100th World Cup podium.

“I felt, like, inspired, I just felt alive. I was pushing. It’s hard to explain. I wish I could explain,” said the American, who was away from the circuit for much of 2020 because of the death of her father and a back injury.

Shiffrin is the 2014 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion but last triumphed in slalom in December 2019.

On Tuesday, she held on to her opening-run lead and beat Katharina Liensberger by 0.19 seconds following a near-flawless final run, denying the Austrian her maiden career win, and the Austrian team a first slalom win since November 2014.

Liensberger is the only skier to finish in the top three of all five slaloms so far this season.

“So much energy has been building up, it all, like, went out on that run,” said Shiffrin. “What can I say? That’s cool.”

After dominating the circuit for three straight seasons, Shiffrin lost her overall title to Federica Brignone last year.

The American has been gradually working her way back after her 10-month break. She won her first race since her return at a giant slalom in France in December before adding the second on Tuesday.

“All of the pieces that go into race day came together tonight. It’s amazing, but it doesn’t mean it’s fixed yet,” she said. “Tonight was really, really good.”

The result made Shiffrin the eighth skier in the 54-year-long history of the World Cup to reach 100 podium finishes.

On the women’s side, only Lindsey Vonn (137), Annemarie Moser-Proell (114), Renate Goetschl (110) and Vreni Schneider (101) have more top-three finishes than Shiffrin.

“I definitely wasn’t thinking about records today,” Shiffrin said. “I just wanted to ski well. This slope kind of tripped me up the last couple of years and I just wanted to ski, like, I don’t know, strong and inspired. It’s really, really fun tonight.”

Wendy Holdener was 0.43 behind in third, extending her record to 25 podiums without winning a race in the slalom discipline.

Overall World Cup leader Petra Vlhova, who won three of the previous four slaloms this season, placed fourth.

Michelle Gisin in fifth was 1.52 off the lead. Two weeks ago, Gisin won in another Austrian resort, Semmering, to become the first skier other the Shiffrin or Vlhova to win a World Cup slalom in 29 races since January 2017.

Shiffrin also led the slalom in Semmering after the first run before dropping to third.

“When you’re leading in the first run, and in the second run, you’re standing at the top, the wait is forever,” Shiffrin said. “In Semmering I felt that, and I was like: ‘I can’t do it.’ Today, I felt that, and every second I was thinking: ‘Let me go, let me go, let me go!’ Like, I wanted to go now. That was very exciting.”

Shiffrin has finished on the podium here all eight times she competed in the floodlit race since 2013, including four wins.

She has won a record 44 World Cup slaloms and 68 races overall, putting her in outright third place on the all-time winners list, one ahead of Marcel Hirscher.

Only Ingemar Stenmark (86) and Vonn (82) have more wins.

Shiffrin led a strong showing by the U.S. ski team, with Paula Moltzan in ninth earning her first top-10 result in slalom.

A.J. Hurt finished 29th for her career best in the discipline. Hurt had not scored World Cup points before this season but now has top-30 finishes in four different events.

Camille Rast of Switzerland, a late starter with bib No. 57 who had not qualified for a second run before, was 14th after the opening run and finished the race in sixth.

The women’s World Cup continues with two giant slaloms in Kranjska Gora this weekend, after the races were moved from another Slovenian resort, Maribor, because of a lack of snow.

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates in the finish area after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Flachau, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)
United States' Mikaela Shiffrin, center, winner of an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom, celebrates on the podium with second placed Austria's Katharina Liensberger, left, and third placed Switzerland's Wendy Holdener, in Flachau, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

Vidakovich column: Pistol Pete’s last shot

When he walked into the gymnasium of the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California on Jan. 5, 1988, Pete Maravich confessed to the pickup basketball crowd that had gathered for some morning games that he hadn’t played in months and that his game contained more rust than an antique store.

Maravich was in town to tape a Christian radio show for the Focus on the Family Ministry and all the players who had dropped by that morning — including former UCLA great Ralph Drollinger — were just happy to be on the hardwood with the legendary college and NBA star. They could have cared less that “Pistol Pete” was well past his prime.

The last shot that Maravich dropped through the hoop that day turned out to be the last shot he would ever make. During a college career at Louisiana State University, Pete scored baskets at will, amassing a three-year scoring average of 44.2 points per game. Maravich is still the leading scorer in college basketball history and he went on to lead the NBA in scoring one season, and was named to the professional league’s all-star team multiple times.

Following a serious knee injury that cut short his brilliant career, Maravich had struggled mightily to find a purpose in his post-basketball life. After losing his father to prostate cancer, and a desperate personal search that took him through depression and a battle with alcoholism, Maravich arrived at Christianity.

Immersing himself in the solace of religion, he had become a popular speaker for church groups and religious gatherings throughout the country.

On his last morning of life, with a basketball in his hand, Pistol Pete dribbled to the left side of the key, and as he had done countless times from the days of growing up in the steel city of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, to having the basketball arena named in his honor at LSU, Maravich lofted a soft shot off the glass for a score.

In one moment Pete was joking with the church group that he hadn’t even meant to bank the shot, and then seconds later Maravich fell to the floor and would never get up. At the age of 40, congenital heart failure had taken the life of one of basketball’s all-time greats.

When early January rolls around each year, I think of the night I walked into my parent’s home and before I could even get completely through the front door, my dad told me that Pistol Pete had passed away. I had just come home from coaching my junior varsity basketball team at Glenwood High School.

Growing up, I idolized Pistol Pete Maravich. I ate, slept and drank basketball, and I watched Maravich turn the game into theater. He was indeed a magician on the basketball court and I tried, without much success, to pattern my game around the example that he set.

Though I know it is just misguided stubbornness toward one boy’s hero in life, I will continue to insist that Maravich was the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. It is safe to say, though, that he was easily among the most entertaining players that ever laced up the sneakers. His behind the back passes and between the legs dribbles were emulated on playground courts everywhere that young hopefuls dreamed of someday having the same showtime repertoire as Maravich.

It’s only fitting that in the end, Pistol Pete took his last breath on a basketball court in a church. They were the two sanctuaries where he felt most at peace.

Mike Vidakovich grew up in Glenwood Springs where he coaches youth basketball and writes freelance for the Post Independent.

Todd Casebier hired on as new Rifle High School dean of students, football coach

Newly hired Rifle High School dean of students and head football coach Todd Casebier sits on a bench at Bears Stadium on Tuesday. Ray K. Erku / Citizen Telegram

New Rifle High School dean of students and high school football coach Todd Casebier officially joined staff Tuesday.

The Garfield County Re-2 District Board of Education on Monday confirmed Casebier’s position after approving all administrative letters recommending he be hired.

“Todd will be a great addition to our team, and though he will be developing relationships with all students, specifically, his role will be working with students that struggle with attendance, helping students complete their journey to graduation, and helping students find their place in school and community,” Rifle High School Principal John Arledge said a recent news release. “He will be a strong advocate for kids and help us develop pathways for kids.”

Casebier, who’s in the past taught and coached at Fruita Monument, Montrose and Palisade high schools, most recently coached at Castle View High School.

Casebier’s career has consisted of using his multi-tiered roles to help students achieve success, according to the release

“I’ve been in several positions where I work with students to get them the support they need to graduate. I think I can bring these skills to the table at Rifle High School, and I’m excited about joining the team,” Casebier said in the release. “I’m a Western Slope kind of guy. I’m excited to be coming back to the Western Slope.”

Casebier gets set to take over the helm from now former Bears Football head coach Damon Wells, who stepped down this winter.

Wells has now taken job as activities director and head football coach for Jefferson City High School in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Wells’ feats coaching RHS football are impressive, to say the least. As head coach, he accrued 118 wins to 35 losses. And, he led the Bears to three state title games — 2005, 2012 and 2014.

But when it comes to football, Casebier is also no stranger to the win column. Voted “Mile High Sports Magazine Coach of the Year” in 2018, Casebier’s exploits include leading the Castle View Sabercats to 20 wins since 2018.

Casebier led the Sabercats to 20 wins since 2018. His tenure included a top-10 finish, multiple playoff appearances, the school’s first ever 5A playoff victory and three Coach of the Year awards, the release states.

Casebier said he looks to bring continued success for RHS football.

“I’m the only guy in the world that will be coaching in two different COVID football seasons,” Casebier joked in reference to coaching Castle View in the fall and now Rifle in the modified spring Season C. “I’m very familiar with Western Slope football, and Coach Wells built an exceptional program. I’m excited about this opportunity, and I know that Rifle has a great winning tradition that I hope to continue.”

Casebier’s coaching skills, however, are not the greatest asset he will be bringing to Rifle High School.

“He builds young men to be better in their character, better citizens, better student-athletes, and better people. That’s where I’m excited to see him make an impact,” Arledge said in the release. “He is successful if you measure by wins and losses, that is for sure, but he is also successful in taking kids that may be struggling to find their way and helping them become better people.”

Each interview during the Garfield County District Re-2 hiring process consisted of a committee of administrators, counselors and teachers.

rerku@postindependent.com