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2019 Veterans and Active Duty Military football game honors heroes

The Honor Bell presented at the Veterans Game at Cherokee Trail on Sept. 7. The central mission behind the Cherry Creek School District’s annual Veterans and Active Military Appreciation game hasn’t changed since it kicked off six years ago.

“It’s time to say ‘Thank you,’ to say, ‘Welcome home, welcome back, thanks for all you do,’” said CCSD Executive Director of Elementary Education Dr. Nickie Bell. “We have an opportunity to make new friends and to have students make firsthand interactions with military personnel on a whole different level. The most important part is the individual feedback.”

Bell spoke in front of Legacy Stadium on the Cherokee Trail campus on Sept. 7, shortly before the kickoff of an event that’s become an important tradition for the entire Cherry Creek Schools community. For the past six years, CCSD has turned an early-season football game between two high school teams into an expression of gratitude to those who’ve served and those who continue to serve in all branches of the military. This year was no different – more than 120 vets and active-duty service members reported to the campus for food, football and, most importantly, direct expressions of thanks from students, staff and administrators from across the district and beyond.

Attendees were welcomed to the Cherokee Trail High School and Fox Ridge Middle School campus before a game between Smoky Hill and Rangeview high schools with a free pizza dinner and a chance to meet firsthand with students. As in past years, the pre-game celebration saw the formal unveiling of the 1,000-pound Honor Bell, a stirring monument made up of medals, pins and other badges of service from dedicated veterans. Guests were escorted from the Cherokee Trail cafeteria to the field through a gauntlet composed of cheerleaders, musicians and other representatives from CCSD and Aurora Public Schools, all of whom voiced their appreciation. Before the game kicked off, members of the Honor Bell Foundation on the field tolled the massive bell seven times, a number that aligns with the number of stars embossed on the bell.

Every stage of the celebration had the same purpose.

“Our veterans and our active military matter, and we need our students to understand that. We wouldn’t be here tonight without the sacrifices they’ve made for us,” said CCSD Chief of Staff Chris Smith. “The bottom line is that if one veteran or active military member shows up and they feel thanked, it’s all worth it.”

The turnout on Sept. 7 drew nearly 150 honorees. Army Sgt. Mason Hebert was one of the active duty service members on hand who interacted directly with students and swapped stories with veterans of an older generation.

“They deserve the greatest credit,” Hebert said. “Saying ‘Thank you’ is a simple form of appreciation; shaking a hand goes a long way.”

These were the kinds of gestures that veterans like Tom Werzyn didn’t always receive when they returned from serving in the Vietnam War. Werzyn, who’s active in local Vietnam veterans groups, said that even decades after the conflict, an event like the Appreciation Game goes a long way in mending the oversights of another generation.

“The event is an opportunity for us as veterans and you as a civilian to recognize each other, what we’ve done for each other,” Werzyn said. “I’m afraid the military in this country does not hold the position that it did at one point and that it should. The youngsters need to know what all veterans and active service members do for them.”

Spreading that message was a high priority for CCSD administrators like Bell, whose late father served in the Vietnam War.

“This is deep in my heart. I am the daughter of an Army veteran. My dad served valiantly … He never got a ‘Thank you.’ He never got a ‘Welcome home.’ He got a lot of criticism instead,” Bell said. “On my watch, I’m going to take every chance I can to thank these veterans and active military members.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she added.

Posted on 9/11 at 3 PM