Rifle coach succeeds beyond the playing field
RIFLE – Too often the success of a coach is measured in wins and losses.
Roger Walters has compiled a very successful record in seven years as Rifle High’s boys basketball coach and six as boys golf coach.
But what makes Walters stand out is what his athletes say about him after the season is over.
“He’s as good as it gets,” said two-time state golf medalist Luke Antonelli of his four years under Walters’ tutelege.
“He’s always helpful and asks about how you’re doing. He’s not worried about you (just) during the season. He cares all the time.”
Sophomore Jimmy Owens, a varsity golf and basketball player, agreed.
“He is a really classy guy. He is a great coach no matter what the season is.”
In recognition of Walters’ coaching talent, the Western Slope basketball league coaches named Walters “Coach of the Year” for the 2001-2002 season. He won the same award for the 1995-96 season.
Owens said what sets Walters apart from other coaches is the caring atmosphere he creates for his teams.
Those extras include setting up team dinners throughout the season, attending out-of-town camps with the team in the summer, and taking the time to improve a player’s performance.
“He’s helped me with my swing and shot,” said Owens of the two sports.
Antonelli, whose played junior golf for years before joining the Bear varsity as a freshman, said he’s benefited from the coach’s instruction.
“I know he’s helped me with my golf game,” he said. Antonelli’s career at Rifle proves his point. In four years as a member of Walter’s varsity, Antonelli qualified for state each year, twice earning a state medal.
Walters has his own collection of RHS varsity letters.
As a prep at Rifle High in the mid-1980s, Walters won 10 varsity letters.
Walters was a four-year member of the varsity golf team at RHS. He also played on the Bears’ varsity basketball and baseball teams from his sophomore year until graduating in 1986.
Over that four-year span, Walters twice qualified for the state golf tournament, earned all-league recognition in all three sports in his junior and senior years, and was a Class 2A all-state selection in basketball for the 1985-86 season.
As a senior, Walters set school basketball records for most average points per game (22.5) and best free throw percentage (84 percent).
Both records still stand 16 years later.
“He was very smooth,” said Jack Smith, former assistant baseball coach and current girls varsity basketball assistant coach.
“I nicknamed him `Silk’ because everything about him was smooth. It’s hard for me not to call him that when I see him, but sometimes I forget,” Smith explained.
“Roger coaches the same way he played,” Smith said. “He never gave up, was disciplined, and you could always depend on him because he gave it his best effort.”
Gordon Cooper, Rifle’s head baseball coach during Walter’s playing days said, “Roger got along well with everybody. He attitude was super and he has a love for athletics.”
“That transferred to his coaching,” added Cooper. “His ability to get along with kids helped him. The kids have to like you a little bit to be successful.”
And this year Walters’ teams were very successful.
The Bear basketball team reached the second round of the Class 4A playoffs for the second straight year. They won the 2001-02 regular season Western Slope League championship and concluded the year with a 17-7 record.
Earlier in the school year, the Bears’ golf team also had an abundant year under Walters.
Rifle won the Western regional tournament and qualified as a team for the state tournament for the second consecutive year. Antonelli shot the lowest individual score at regionals, and went on to earn his second state medal two weeks later at the Spring Valley Golf Course in Elizabeth.
Walters became the head basketball coach in 1995 and since then has directed the Bears to four straight winning seasons. As the varsity golf coach, Walters reversed a long losing trend.
He became the first coach to steer Rifle to a district title in school history, qualify a team for state after a 20-year draught, and produced the team’s highest position at state by finishing fifth place in the 2000-2001 tournament.
“(Coach Walters) puts a lot of effort into coaching,” said senior basketball player Andy Gardineer. “Kids know that and that’s why they want to play hard for him. He demands respect and he leads by example.”
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