Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
After a cookout that had a decidedly family-reunion type feel and a handful of public speakers, player by player walked across the stage, greeted by Eric Jones, Martin Dirks and head coach Oige Kennedy to receive the fruits of their labor.
The fruit was a small circle made of what appeared to be white gold, encrusted with a smattering of blue diamonds and a logo bearing three stars on top. On one side was a name. On the other, the reason for the lavish prize: 2011 National Champions.
The Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team received their 2011 championship rings in a ceremony held Thursday at Whalen Gymnasium, a final nod to the success of last season before turning an eye toward the future.
For soon-to-be-departed goalkeeper Ryan Wirth, it was the second time at such a shindig after he played second fiddle to fellow local Zane Wells on the 2009 title team. Having been the starter this time around, Wirth said the moment was bigger for him this time around than it was two years ago.
“Playing a major role in it and seeing it I guess from on the field instead of off the field was very different, very rewarding,” said Wirth, a Bayfield High School alumnus and son of Fredi and Robin Wirth.
As ornate as championship rings can be, Wirth said his pair, despite being a beloved keepsake, isn’t a frequent fashion accessory.
“To be honest, after about a week, you kind of feel ridiculous wearing them,” Wirth said with a laugh.
Athletic director Gary Hunter was the first to speak to the Skyhawks’ nation of fans, followed by Durango Youth Soccer Association director and FLC alumnae Kate Stahlin, La Plata County Commissioner Wally White and student body president Natalie Janes, all of whom offered congratulations and encouragement.
Then came the rings, which were received by every player but three. Fabian Kling, Berekk Blackwell and Thomas Hoang had other engagements and were unable to attend.
Kennedy then thanked Dirks – the program’s biggest booster for whom the FLC match pitch is named – assistant coach David Oberholtzer and the fans. For Kennedy, it was the second time in three years for this manner of celebration, and the celebrations never get old for the third-year head coach.
“People talk about the first one being special, but to be honest, it’s such a great achievement with a lot of new guys, it still feels fresh to me,” Kennedy said.
City council member Doug Lyon was the last to speak, offering his own energized congratulations to the team.
The most entertaining part of the night may have been the live raffle of the seniors’ jerseys. Kling’s fetched the biggest bounty at $700. But the reigning Division II Player of the Year and the rest of last year’s seniors are gone, and Thursday provided Kennedy a brief respite from the recruiting trail as he looks to build another contender next season.
But the accoutrement outfitting his new blazer illustrated the team’s success under his watch. The blazer was designed by Multiblazer, a company former FLC soccer player Luc Cisna helped found, and was navy with gold trim. Adorning the breast was the Fort Lewis soccer crest, only now outfitted with a third star – the symbol of titles won.
“I think it looks pretty balanced. I think we could probably fit a couple more on there, too,” Kennedy said.