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Niwot High School's first Hall of Fame ceremony

As Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Joe Brown closed out Niwot High School's inaugural Hall of Fame ceremony, the echoes of applause reverberated through the auditorium, leaving a lasting impression on attendees. The five inductees – Tiny Koehler, Sue Prahl, Art and Debbi Stapp, Terri Ward, and Biff Warren– accepted the honor with grace, each telling stories the audience will not soon forget.

On June 2, students, teachers, family, and friends gathered to recognize excellence. Directly following the student-body-focused Night of Champions, Eric Rauschkolb, Niwot High School's principal, smoothly transitioned the evening into a heartfelt tribute to the individuals who have profoundly shaped Niwot High School.

Rauschkolb said the Hall of Fame was established with three key objectives: to honor those who achieved greatness as students at Niwot High School, to recognize individuals who contributed significantly to the school, and to celebrate alumni who have made a positive impact on the world. Rauschkolb emphasized this during his opening remarks, presenting a call to action for current students. He urged them to draw inspiration from the stories of the inductees to "finish strong at Niwot High School, reach [their] potential, and do great things after [their] time as a student."

Paul "Tiny" Koehler: The Pioneer Coach

Tiny Koehler was the first to be recognized in the inaugural class of the Niwot High School Hall of Fame. Niwot's first-ever football coach was celebrated for over 40 years of service to the school. Rauschkolb recounted Koehler's achievements, including leading the Niwot football team to the first state championship in school history in 1990. "Tiny has set the bar high for positive coaching, mentoring, accountability, teamwork, and achievement," Rauschkolb noted.

Koehler, in his speech, thanked the current student-athletes, emphasizing the importance of dreams and humility. He remembers how NHS was the orphan child of the St. Vrain Valley School District when it first opened, "We wanted to be the best, the classiest," he said, speaking to the students directly, "You are, and I think that's absolutely awesome." After quoting country star Cody Johnson's "'Til You Can't," Koehler emphasized to students that they are only as much as who they want to be. "Be humble about the talents you have, feel free to use them ...Be grateful to your parents, to your coaches, to your teachers, but most of all be grateful for the people that are sitting next to you. You're going to spend your whole life growing up with them."

Sue Prahl: The Heart of Niwot

Sue Prahl has been a pillar in the community for over 50 years, passionately supporting youth sports and ensuring countless opportunities for students. Brown remarked, "Sue has been a part of Niwot High School since the very, very early days. Today, you can still see her at all of our athletic events." Prahl expressed her gratitude for the honor, "I love what I do here, and you kids, you student-athletes, make that possible for me." Brown also highlighted her emotional connection to the school, "On senior night, when Sue's reading through her information card, she gets emotional when [student-athletes talk] about their experience at NHS because of how much she loves Niwot ...I truly do believe that Sue Prahl is the heart of Niwot."

Debbi and Art Stapp: Champions of Community Support

Debbi and Art Stapp's contributions to Niwot High School and the broader community have left a lasting mark. The Stapps have shown unwavering generosity towards the St. Vrain Valley School District and Niwot High School, empowering countless students through their philanthropic efforts. Rauschkolb noted that students have Art Stapp to thank for the weight room off of the football field. He also highlighted the Stapps' impactful legacy, "Art grew the business and Debbi grew the philanthropy. She started the Stapp Inspires program, and since 2016, they've supported over 100 charities, school groups, and organizations, donating over one million dollars in total."

Stapp Interstate Toyota, their business, sponsors the St. Vrain Valley Ready Innovation Lab and the Left Hand Valley Courier feature "Arts Student of the Week." Though Art passed away last year, his legacy continues through Debbi Stapp and their family. "Our connection to Niwot started 50 years ago," Debbi Stapp shared, recalling their involvement in the community and the special memories made at NHS. "I feel blessed to have raised my kids in this community and to see my grandkids be a part of Niwot High. This honor means the world to me, and sharing it with Art makes it even more special."

Terri Ward: A Lifelong Advocate for Girls' Sports

Terri Ward, a lifelong Niwot community member and a 1976 Niwot High School graduate, has dedicated herself to girls' athletics and education at the school for decades. Brown highlighted her long-standing commitment, noting that Ward was among the first to attend Niwot High School for all four years, later returning to teach and coach volleyball and basketball. Brown noted that her advocacy for female athletes has garnered her respect at state and national levels.

Ward expressed her gratitude to everyone involved in the event and congratulated the students, athletes, and coaches honored that evening. "I want to thank you for continuing the standard of excellence that has existed here at Niwot High School since we opened," she said. Reflecting on her time at NHS, Ward shared lively anecdotes about what life was like when the school first opened. She recalled that for that first semester in 1972, NHS students ate dinner with their classmates instead of lunch because they were sharing the building with Longmont High School, "The best part was football season because every Friday night football game, we didn't have to go to school." She fondly recalled the opening of Niwot's very own high school. "You become a family when you get to walk into Niwot High School in January and open up this brand new building. There were a lot of things that weren't finished yet..., but it was our house, it was our home, and everyone wanted to take care of that home." She emphasized the lasting impact of the school community, saying "I did my student teaching here at Niwot High School, and came back to be a teacher at both Niwot Elementary and Niwot High School." Ward concluded by highlighting how Niwot High School shaped her career, saying, "I got my start in the wonderful world of girls' sports here at Niwot High School."

Bruce "Biff" Warren: The Connector of Niwot

Biff Warren, affectionately referred to as "Mr. Niwot" by Rauschkolb, has been a vital part of the community since 1975. Warren has served in numerous roles including president of the Niwot Cultural Arts Association, past chairman of the Niwot Local Improvement District, and one of the founding members of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

On stage, Warren, armed with a bag full of nostalgic props, shared personal stories and old t-shirts commemorating his involvement in Niwot sports, which included serving as an assistant softball coach for his daughter, Randi Willemsen, in 1998, and his current role as an assistant baseball coach. He emphasized the importance of connections, sharing how coaching baseball for Niwot Youth Sports helped him integrate into the community. "Make sure to stay in touch with the people you grew up with, the people you went to Niwot High School with. They are the people you will remember for the rest of your life." Warren's enduring connections with former players and community members exemplify the strong bonds formed throughout his life.

The inaugural NHS Hall of Fame ceremony was a celebration of past achievements, a recognition of present excellence, and a call to action for the future. As Brown noted, "The Hall of Fame is about celebrating those who have made Niwot High School what it is today, and inspiring those who will shape it tomorrow." The Hall of Fame stands as a testament to the legacy of those who have made a difference, and a reminder that each of us has the potential to leave our mark on the world.

For those interested in submitting nominations for future Hall of Fame inductees, please visit www.nhs-cougars.com/hof/.

 

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