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Columbine Football Team Seeks Title

December 3, 1999

LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) _ His number is emblazoned on Columbine High’s practice jersey and his initials are tattooed on one team member’s arm.

Columbine’s football players are Rebels with a cause, heading into Saturday’s state championship game against Cherry Creek High with a mission to win _ not only for their school, but for Matt Kechter, a 16-year-old teammate who was slain during the April 20 massacre at their school.

``We carry his number close to our heart,″ coach Andy Lowry said. ``Not only Matt, but all the victims. They’re always in our thoughts and always in our prayers.″

It will be the school’s first trip to the state football championship since 1981.

``It’s something that we needed,″ said principal Frank D’Angelis. ``It does have some special meaning. After what happened last April, I think people do not take anything for granted anymore.″

In honor of their fallen teammate, the Rebels wear Kechter’s No. 70 on their navy blue practice jerseys and on their helmets. Lowry and his assistants display ``MJK″ on the back of their hats. Linebacker Zach Rauzi went a step further, tattooing his friend’s initials and a cross on his arm.

``It’s a big deal, since we’re trying to state that we’re making a comeback,″ said junior Shanna Geslin. ``I know a lot of the guys are dedicating their games to Matt, which is even more special.″

Columbine, 12-1, is seeking its first state championship in any sport since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold _ armed with guns and bombs _ killed 12 classmates and a teacher and committed suicide in the school library.

Harris and Klebold considered themselves outcasts and reportedly targeted athletes during their rampage, at one point shouting: ``All jocks stand up! We’re going to kill every one of you.″

The library is closed, and the echo of bullets ricocheting off the lockers is still vivid for those at Columbine, but many believe the tragedy has helped foster tolerance.

Matt Whilden, a freshman, said he was expecting the teasing from athletes and upperclassmen to be worse than it is. ``I’m in a lot of classes with juniors and seniors,″ he said, ``and it hasn’t been bad at all.″

In the quarterfinals, the Rebels rallied from being down 17-0 in the fourth-quarter to beat Boulder’s Fairview High 21-17. Afterward, the Rebels wept and chanted, ``MJK! MJK! MJK!″

``After that game, I was speechless,″ the coach said. ``I know God has a lot more important things to do than concern himself with a football team, but it sure took some kind of divine intervention.″

Because of what happened at Columbine, the Rebels are sentimental favorites against Cherry Creek, a football powerhouse that has won the state title seven times this decade.

Cherry Creek player Matt Terry told The Denver Post: ``People may not like us because we beat them. But at the same time, they must understand we can’t lay down for them. We can’t just let them win. We have to go out there and do our best.″

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