Christie Toliver lives her life according to a simple motto.
"'Life moves pretty fast, and if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you can miss it,'" Toliver states simply, quoting a crucial line from the 1986 comedy "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Tolliver, the principal of Sagebrush Elementary School, is quick to put her own spin on the guideline. "We can get busy and forget to take time to laugh with each other."
Toliver certainly took that philosophy to heart on Feb. 5, as she bravely faced a coordinated concert of boos from the entire student body, a reaction that came thanks to Toliver's choice of sports gear. The students gathered in the gym for a very special after-school pep rally, one that saw Toliver ceremoniously change her beloved Dallas Cowboys jersey in favor of orange-and-blue Denver Broncos gear.
Toliver's very public transformation from a Cowboys fan to a Broncos booster came less than three days before Super Bowl 50, and it was the result of months' worth of pressure from the Sagebrush community. As the Cowboys looked worse and worse during the regular season and the Broncos progressed to the playoffs, Toliver felt a distinct push to change her affiliation.
"As the playoffs came around, the pressure came around," said Toliver, who boasts an extended network of friends and family who are die-hard Cowboys fans. "It was all in good fun, to try to transition from being a Cowboys fan to embracing the Broncos culture."
The encouragement wasn't limited to the school. Toliver's son, an 11-year-old student at Liberty Middle School, is a devoted Broncos fan who added his own voice to the chorus. That came along with urging from students, teachers and staff at Sagebrush.
"The Friday before the AFC championship game, she wore a burnt-orange sweater as her way of supporting the Broncos," said Kim Freed, a teacher at Sagebrush. "She was meeting with teachers that day, and we decided that she needed more. They had a game of adding Broncos articles so she could participate more appropriately as a Broncos fan," she said, adding that Toliver was decked in a giant orange hat, a Broncos scarf and plenty of other orange and blue swag by the end of her tour.
It was the first step toward Toliver's official conversion on Feb. 5. That transition came as hundreds of students sat in the Sagebrush gym, offering their loudest chants for their home team. Toliver entered the gym decked in a Cowboys jersey, a matching scarf and a coordinated pair of boots. She made her way across the gym, waving her Cowboys colors and earning baleful boos from the young Broncos fans.
After a coordinated dance routine from Sagebrush teachers and a slide show detailing Toliver's backstory, she emerged a much different NFL fan. Toliver, joined by Assistant Principal Karen Puga, wore an orange cowboy hat, a matching set of orange boots and a full-body barrel, a choice designed to emulate The Barrel Man, one of the Broncos' most hallowed fans.
The crowd erupted in ear-splitting cheers as Toliver graciously showed off her full conversion, running across the gym and trading high-fives with students.
The whole ceremony could have had the feel of treason for a Cowboys booster whose love of the team goes back decades. But Toliver accepted the proceedings with a constant smile. She chalked up her easygoing attitude to a commitment to the entire school, and she stressed again and again the importance of having fun.
"A sense of community is important to any school," Toliver said. "What better time to take a moment and celebrate something that's important for our students? It's very personal and immediate to them; these are the things that our kids remember and these are the opportunities that bring communities together."
For all of her grace in accepting the conversion, however, Toliver has yet to commit to wearing orange and blue once the 2016-17 preseason begins.
Even so, her support of the Super Bowl-bound Broncos was a valuable start for the entire Sagebrush community.