2011 a big year for the Bears | PostIndependent.com

2011 a big year for the Bears

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

A riveting local sports year is all but in the books.

Compelling storylines played out in all corners of Garfield County, every twist and turn entertaining the sports enthusiasts among us.

Today, we’ll continue our review of the top 10 local sports stories of 2011 with a look at the headlines occupying the 1 through 5 spots.

See Friday’s Post Independent or http://www.postindependent.com for stories 6 through 10.

The football team at Rifle High School will always play with a 12th man on the field. The basketball team will forever have a sixth man and the baseball team a 10th.

Austin Booth’s memory has lived on in a big way at Rifle.

Booth, a multi-sport athlete who loved sports, died in January after a bout with the flu, leaving behind a devastated student body.

But he wasn’t forgotten.

Though he hadn’t lived in Rifle long, the gregarious young man left a tremendous impact on the school and its sports teams.

His basketball teammates played with him on their mind, as did his football and baseball teammates.

On football senior night, Booth’s family stood in for him as the each of the team’s senior players were honored. Booth’s name and football jersey number – 2 – were listed on the team’s roster all season long.

To call the moment emotional would be an understatement.

“You can’t write it too many times,” Rifle football coach Damon Wells said. “He’s just a great human being.”

And a human being whose memory will not fade in the halls at Rifle High School.

Booth wasn’t the only loss Rifle suffered in 2011.

Teacher Steve Chesley was killed in an October mountain biking accident and the mother of football player Jake Whaley died in the week preceding the Bears’ quarterfinal playoff game.

As a group, the Bears hoisted their 3A team title trophy as they ran a victory lap at Lakewood’s Jefferson County Stadium.

It was only fitting, as the Rifle High School boys track and field team had worked together all weekend to capture the prized possession.

Nailing down high finishes all weekend long, the team ran away with the 3A title at the May track and field state meet.

The Bears were buoyed by a bevy of high finishes, but they saved perhaps their best effort for last.

Andrew Proebstle, Rifle’s iron-lunged anchor, crossed the line as the clock ticked to 3 minutes, 26.66 seconds, and the Bears closed out the state meet with a win in the 4×400-meter relay final. Rifle captured the 4×200 crown earlier in the meet.

“That’s not a bad way to end the year,” said Jose Salazar, who ran the relay’s second leg. “That was probably the toughest competition we’ve had all year.”

The Bears finished just ahead of Pagosa Springs (3:27.38).

“This feels pretty dang good,” said third-leg runner Tanner Rust.

Sophomore Aaron Wagler handled the lead leg for Rifle, which finished with 81.5 points to place ahead of silver-finishing The Classical Academy (76 points).

Brandon Kittle nabbed second in the pole vault, clearing 12 feet, 6 inches. Keaton Deere was eighth (10-6). With the pole vault finishing last among the day’s events, the points Rifle earned from those finishes pushed it over the top.

Taylor Webb took silver in the 110 hurdles. Webb also went on to place ninth in the 300 hurdles (41.94) and seventh in the high jump (6-2).

Salazar took fourth in the 300 hurdles (40.81). Proebstle took bronze in both the 200 (22.48) and the 400 (49.52) open events.

In the long jump, Ryan Moeller finished fifth (20-6). He added a third-place finish in the triple jump (43-9).

Wagler sped to seventh in the 400 (51.91).

Rifle’s 4×100 relay, comprised of Deere, Moeller, Kittle and Kellin Leigh, took eighth (44.86).

Football is a big deal in Rifle.

As such, the community met Rifle High School’s remarkable 2011 run with unbridled enthusiasm.

The tradition-rich Bears pieced together a 10-0 regular season, winning their first 3A Western Slope League title since 2002.

Rifle made the playoffs for the first time since 2007, beating Roosevelt in the first round, 14-7, and losing to Windsor, 36-15, in the quarterfinals. Both playoff games were played in Rifle.

A punishing ground game and devastating defense carried the Bears back to glory. They finished the year with an 11-1 record.

Ryan Moeller rushed for well over 2,000 yards and Brandon Kittle eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau to pace the offense.

Rifle’s storied football history includes three state titles. The Bears last won it all in 2004. They were state runners-up in 2005.

In May 2010, Josh Wharton was climbing at Rifle Mountain Park and suffered a hard fall.

Climbing alone, the former Rifle resident was in the midst of replacing some old bolts on a route when he dropped roughly 20 feet to the ground.

“More or less, I made a silly mistake,” Wharton recalled.

He broke his right arm and two vertebrae.

“For a while, the first five or six weeks, [doctors] were questioning if I was going to be able to get back to being a full-time climber,” he said. “I was pretty nervous for a while.”

After time in a brace, rehabilitation consisted of trips to the gym and water aerobics. Soon, he was back on the rocks, climbing in the mountains near his home in Estes Park.

Somehow, Wharton found his competitive form by the time the January Ouray Ice Festival rolled around.

There, with a 13 minute, 47 second clocking on the mixed-climbing route, he captured his third straight Ouray title.

“This one has a little more meaning for me, just because I hard to work so hard to get back there,” Wharton said.

Glenwood Springs High School’s golden girls weren’t going to be denied.

For a second straight May, the Demons won relay gold at the state track and field meet in Lakewood.

The 4×400-meter relay team of Madi Goodstein, Kristy Moore, Jolie Dubois and Michaela Mansfield teamed up to clock a time of 3 minutes, 57.74 seconds to win the school’s second consecutive 4A state title in the event.

“We worked so hard,” said Goodstein, then a junior. “We were not going to let anyone beat us.”

That’s for sure.

With Mansfield in possession of the baton for the final lap, the Demons edged second-place Wheat Ridge by more than four seconds.

“That was the best last race I could ever ask for,” said Moore, who closed out her senior campaign in golden fashion.

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