‘Go Bears – take State!’
RIFLE — Back in 2004 when Rifle High School’s football team won the Class 3A state title, Todd Ellis, the school’s principal, was one of the assistant coaches for the Bears.
And even as the RHS principal, the nerves for Ellis are a lot now like they were then.
“There were a lot of nerves and a lot of distraction,” Ellis said. “They have a lot of things on their minds.”
The Rifle Bears will face off with Pueblo East Eagles on Saturday for the 3A state football championship in Pueblo.
“We’re always trying to second-guess the whole game plan and figure out the logistics of the travel and what we’re going to eat,” Ellis said. “Back in 1992 -1993, a few of our players all ate the same thing and got food poisoning.”
But the community support for the Bears has been integral in their winning season, Ellis said.
“I think the community has really adopted the Bears in the last 10 years,” he said. “We’ve become the face of the community and there has been a tremendous amount of backing for all of our programs.”
Jennifer Shepherd has two sons on the Bears team — a senior, Austin, and a freshman, Cameron. Both are linebackers.
“We’re pretty excited,” Shepherd said. “I don’t miss a single game and I plan on supporting the team.”
The last time the Bears were finalists in the games, Shepherd and the team was escorted by the police and fire departments as they left town.
“The moms and the families were there and they went down Railroad with their sirens on,” Shepherd recalled. “Businesses had balloons out and some very generous persons made a huge banner that said, ‘Go Bears – Take State!’ It was quite emotional, actually.”
Shepherd, who moved to Rifle in 2008 from the Denver area, said she wouldn’t raise her family anywhere else.
“Rifle is such a part of their schools and how much these kids put in — even the plays and the band concerts,” she said. “It’s not just the sports. And these coaches love these kids. They connect with the kids even in the summer months. It’s cool that they interact with the kids even outside of football.”
Rifle mayor Randy Winkler agrees.
“This is a big deal and this is a good team,” he said. “They’re very organized and they’re very, very well coached.”
Jonathan Rice is a social studies/government teacher at Rifle High School and an assistant coach.
“This is a huge blessing for everybody involved to get an opportunity to play at the Dutch Clark Stadium,” said Rice, who was speaking of the site of today’s state title game in Pueblo. “It’s a really neat setting for a big game.”
Rice has an added interest in the game as he is also a father of one of the players, Cody Rice, a senior linebacker and tight end. Cody’s older brother, Adam, played as a quarterback for the Bears in 2012, the last time they went to the state title game.
“Football has been a great thing for us,” the elder Rice said. “There are so many families involved, and there has been so much community support. The moms have even making food and signs to show their support, and the businesses have given financial support.”
And for those who can’t make it to Pueblo to see the game, the new Ute Events Center on 4th Street in Rifle will be streaming the championship game live on Saturday. The game starts at 1 p.m., and the doors at the Ute will open at 12:30 p.m. The theater can accommodate 350 to 375 people. The theater is asking for a donation of a can of food for LIFT-UP at the door.
“It made sense for us to carry the feed for folks who couldn’t make the drive to Pueblo,” said Don Chaney, manager of the Ute Theater. “I can’t wait to see a big crowd in there cheering on the Bears.”
The broadcast was paid for with donations by Columbine Ford, Giard Construction, Align Multimedia, Gold Star Realty and The New Ute Theater Society.
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