There was a sense of excitement in the air at Denver Christian School in Lakewood in the evening of Sept. 19. The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers floated into the school's football stadium's stands. …
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There was a sense of excitement in the air at Denver Christian School in Lakewood in the evening of Sept. 19. The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers floated into the school's football stadium's stands. Children were walking into the stadium with pompoms dressed in blue Denver Christian shirts.
As people began to file in and after words from Matt Covey, the head of the school, the Denver Christian community made their way to the field. They touched hands to make a tunnel before 16 high school students dressed in all blue with the word Thunder across their chest ran through the tunnel to a roar from the crowd.
The Thunder are back.
It's been a long process for a pre-K through grade 12 school that has existed since 1916, but after an absence for five years, Denver Christian's football program has returned.
The football program currently has an eight-man junior varsity team, but it is planning on rolling out a varsity program for the 2020-2022 cycle. The Thunder's first game of the season was a 60-0 home-game victory over Justice High School.
“You go back to history, (football) was a big part of the school for a long, long time, and now it's back. It's a restart, and it's exciting,” said Covey. “When you lose something you love, and it gets taken away, and you work hard to bring it back — we want to celebrate that.”
Denver Christian used to reside in Denver, but it moved to Lakewood in 2014. The move prompted some families to look for other schools because they didn't want to travel further from Denver, causing the school to lose a lot of its football players. The school still planned on having a football team when it moved to Lakewood, and even had a football coach hired, but only six students signed up for the team — the school had to shut down its football program.
Half a decade later, Denver Christian senior running back and linebacker Josiah Romero said he felt a nervous, yet excited feeling as he ran out to the field under the bright lights and saw the stadium's bleachers filled for the restarted team's home opener. By the time the school's varsity football program settles in, he expects that the team is going to be tough to beat.
“It's a different culture from not having (a football team) to having it all of a sudden. It's been super fun, but challenging,” said Romero. “We don't have the most kids here, but I feel like everyone has stepped up.”
In 2015, only 109 students went to Denver Christian's high schoo. Now that number has increased to 179.
With an increase in students and interest in a football program, the school did a feasibility study last fall, according to Barb Landhuis, Denver Christian's athletic director. It also needed nearly $100,000 in hand for two years of operating budget to cover costs, Landhuis said. Denver Christian held a successful fundraiser that was able to help the school buy new uniforms and equipment.
“It was always a dream of our booster club and leadership that we restart football. God has given us some of the best facilities in Lakewood, and we want to use them,” said Covey. “We think extracurriculars can have a really positive influence on high school kids. We want to provide opportunities for kids.”
Dirk Visser is tasked with coaching the football team as it goes through its restart process. Visser, who is also a math teacher at the school, brings 20 years of football coaching experience, including a stint with Columbine High School where he served as an assistant varsity football coach from 1999 to 2009.
He says trying to build a football program is a new challenge, and he's learning as he goes. One of the challenges placed in front of him is building a culture where his team works hard, plays hard and understands that it's a privilege to be on the football field, he says.
“I'm just a guy coaching football and trying to help these players be better young men. They're the ones who stepped out and are taking the risk,” said Visser. “We're brand new. A lot of the kids haven't played contact football. They work hard, they do what we ask and we just try to get better every day and every week.”
“Our kids are making their own history now. They're embracing that,” he said.
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