A couple of weeks ago, I was at Pepsi Center taking in a Nuggets game. I was seated along the aisle, and during a timeout a young man – let’s call him a sophomore – walked down the steps toward his seat. He was wearing a navy blue sweatshirt that said VALOR across the back.
As he sauntered down the stairs, a voice from behind me – let’s call him an adult – shouted through cupped hands: “Valor sucks!”
The roles suddenly reversed. The “adult” just kept walking, paying no attention to the heckler behind him. The “kid” a few rows back giggled like he’d somehow just won a playground squabble.
The scenario caused me to pause and think. It’s one that plays out in stadiums all the time. One fan jeers another, simply for his choice of jersey. Only this particular situation involved two fans both cheering for the same team – the Nuggets. It wasn’t the drunk guy in the Manimal jersey shooting barbs at the guy in the Kobe jersey who stands up after every Lakers dunk. It was a kid, minding his own business, and a “grown up” who simply couldn’t resist being a complete and total a-hole.
It’s no secret that Valor Christian High School is, or at least has been, universally loathed since it opened back in 2007. Its sprawling, Highlands Ranch campus is beautiful if not brash; it’s facilities – both academic and athletic – are second to none. The mission from the powers that be has always been unapologetic and unmistakable: Be the best at everything.
Money helps. Valor Christian has loads of it. Most others don’t have as much. And if one really examines the root of the issue – why a grown man tries to goad a 15-year-old in a public place for absolutely no reason – that’s probably why. There’s a jealousy factor in there somewhere.
That said, Valor Christian hasn’t always helped its own cause. They’ve been bold and brazen. They’ve been placed on probation by the CHSAA for recruiting. They’ve run up the score on opponents, probably too many times. They’ve hired coaches with household names – former Denver Broncos and college stars line the sidelines at football games, and a guy named Gwozdecky will be sitting on the bench this year during hockey season.
And they’ve won – a lot.
When the Denver Broncos violated the NFL’s salary cap en route to two Lombardi Trophies back in the late ’90s, fans of the team shrugged it off. Most didn’t care – “Hey, we finally won it all!” Some applied an age-old American adage: If you ain’t cheatin’, then you ain’t tryin’.
Yet when Valor Christian cheated, or has been accused of cheating (mostly “recruiting”), that adage doesn’t apply. When your favorite pro or college football team does it, it’s okay. When the team your son plays against on Saturdays does it, not so much. We loathe Valor Christian for building the grandest of all facilities, while fans of Colorado and Colorado State gladly fork over donations so their teams can have whatever it takes to compete in Division I college athletics.
Most generally, we live in – and embrace – a win-at-all-costs society. Except when we’re on the losing end of things.
On Saturday, Valor Christian’s football team will compete in its seventh consecutive state football championship game. That’s a remarkable feat, no matter the means required to get there. Those who hate Valor Christian credit only the money. Those who know sports understand that hard work and dedication have to factor in somewhere along the way – more fairly, the entire way.
This Saturday does, however, mark the first time since their first state football title game appearance in 2009 – a 41-14 victory of Steamboat Springs for the 3A crown – that the Eagles won’t be entering the game as a defending champ. After five consecutive championship runs (one in 3A, two in 4A and two in 5A), Valor was defeated by Cherry Creek in last year’s 5A title bout. It was a game for the ages, and seemingly everyone around the state was thrilled about the result. Perhaps the widespread cheer wasn’t because Creek had won – remember, Creek has spent plenty of years being hated within the borders of Colorado – but that Valor had been knocked off its pedestal.
Back in the day (not that long ago), when Creek was the school nobody liked, they won with money (or so plenty of people suggested) and enrollment. In fact, Cherry Creek is still the biggest school in the state with a student body that tops 3,500. Valor Christian, a school that could, in theory, play at a smaller football classification, has a relatively small enrollment of 847.
Valor avenged last year’s loss to Creek this past weekend in a down-to-the wire state semifinal game. They’ll square off against Pomona, who bested the No. 1 seed Columbine for its berth. Pomona beat Valor during the regular season 28-14.
The “State” will unquestionably be rooting for Pomona. And while that’s fine, I’d like to think that doesn’t necessarily mean rooting “against” a kid who happens to play for Valor Christian – I realize that’s probably a utopian point of view.
In most any parallel example, Valor Christian embodies what many (“most” if we’re being completely honest) Americans value: Success at high levels, accomplished by whatever means necessary. But on Saturday, the Eagles – win or lose – likely won’t be celebrated by the masses. In fact and in reality, they’ll be hated.
It all makes you wonder, should Valor Christian be loathed or loved?
Make sure to tune into the 4A and 5A State Championship Games on Saturday, broadcast by Mile High Sports live on 104.3 The Fan!