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Home of Champions

Unexpected this. A town and city forgetting how to be champions. The biggest game in the history of Colorado State University – Pueblo’s existence and it’s met with a region surprised it even happened.

Those who drove to the airport to welcome back the Division II National Champions.

Those who made the trek to a soccer stadium in Kansas City to watch, the Thunderwolves–strike that–OUR Thunderwolves after the win.

Those who sat in the home stands under the statue of Pueblo’s N.F.L. Hall of Famer cheering on a squadron of Eagles to bring football glory for the first time in the halls of Pueblo East High School.

Basketball, wrestling, track-and-field, tennis, and golf: all noble endeavors of student-athletes winning state or national championships.

Southern Colorado, alumni at both schools, and the community needed this. We all needed this. We needed to see something where we could be on the same side to enjoy. Something we could hold in victory, not tear down as enemies. To see that the University can come off the hill. And to perceive kids on the East Side not as burdens on the system but as champions.

But football, oh football, there’s nothing like seeing a legion of suited up warriors run out the sweltering heat of summer camps; play against the backdrop of fallen leaves and chilled nights; delve into the cold fields of winter battle where one play, one inch, one loss means going home empty and disillusioned.

What could have been? There’s always next year? If only? These aren’t questions of champions. Champions return home with hardware and to the exaltation of fans. Band wagon fans, tried-and-true, those who were there from the beginning–it doesn’t matter, champions don’t frown upon those who pay them homage.

From the final tick of the clock until their last breath on earth, the men of the Colorado State University – Pueblo Thunderwolves and Pueblo East High Eagles will forever claim they are champions.

The ultimate achievement, every cliche ever uttered about work, practice, success, is almost  meaningless in contrast to the word — champion. The word itself constructs an energy that can never be replicated, fabricated or contrived.

What these student-athletes have achieved in 2014 is something few have felt. On November 29, Eagles of Pueblo East High School, like a fullback in the I-formation, punched home the 3A State Championship. Less than a month later on December 20, the Thunderwolves followed their lead block and scored the double.

One win is cause for celebration. But two like this, it will never feel like this again. The first Championship at the home of Pueblo’s greatest football player, Earl “Dutch” Clark, a man who sits alongside the greatest N.F.L. players. At 30-14, the Eagles retired across the Arkansas to Pueblo’s East Side as champions.

A school that sits in between the upper class of Pueblo and the less fortunate class. A school with a win as purely Pueblo as there ever will be. A school with a win to show both neighborhoods and students who feed into it, winning isn’t a possibility, it is expected, as months earlier the East Boy’s basketball team won the 4A State Championship.

For once, maybe for the first time ever, the community finally owned the school. When the University moved in the middle of the last century, it made itself a foreigner in a familiar land. But now, people who had little interest in football wanted to greet the hailing victors from their conquest in Kansas City. That is what winning does to a community.

The second championship, a knock-down, 13-0, last-man-standing defensive match broadcasted to the nation–gave the often derided ‘University of Second Choice’ a hope it could finally come off the hill.

Like soldiers pinned inside their own bunkers, Colorado State University – Pueblo has, for far too long, been walled off from the city after which it is named.

For once, maybe for the first time ever, the community finally owned the school. When the University moved in the middle of the last century, it made itself a foreigner in a familiar land. But now, people who had little interest in football wanted to greet the hailing victors from their conquest in Kansas City. That is what winning does to a community.

For the town in the fight to regain its life, what these student-athletes achieved isn’t merely a football win. They unleashed the unmistakable consequence of excellence.

But you don’t play to impart excellence on the community. You play to win for yourself, your team, your coaches, your pursuit to be the best. To win, not for political reasons or to put Pueblo’s name on a national stage but to win because this is why you play the game.

And now that they did, what may never be seen again in our lifetime — the double. For a side of town and a university that have struggled to exist, there is one thing left to do. And it is what the town has wanted to do for so long – celebrate this excellence.

Southern Colorado, alumni at both schools, and the community needed this. We all needed this. We needed to see something where we could be on the same side to enjoy. Something we could hold in victory, not tear down as enemies. To see that the University can come off the hill. And to perceive kids on the East Side not as burdens on the system but as champions.

Yes, hold a rally. Throw a parade. But real cities do more. They unite under the determination to feel this, this feeling of greatness, again by being better, stronger and wanting to defeat every opponent in our path to greatness.

In two wins the Colorado State University – Pueblo Thunderwolves and Pueblo East High School Eagles unleashed a home of champions. Now it’s our turn to show these students we haven’t forgotten what it means to be champions.

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Written by John Rodriguez

Publisher of PULP.

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