Tragedy, triumph and changes mark some of the moments of 2011

Mike Melillo sports a new Colorado Mesa jersey during a recent basketball game. With a new name, the Mavs had to change their jerseys.

A young woman sits on the bank and watches as rescue personnel search for 17-year-old Gabriel Hellmann, who drowned in a lake near 34 3/4 and E Roads on East Orchard Mesa. The drowning of Hellmann, a Palisade athlete, was voted the No. 6 sports story of the year.

Despite having to practice on dry land, Billet Porter and the Grand Valley Junior Maverick 10-under team won the state hockey title.

With a little help from Rally T Turtle Navarro won the 2011 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series title.

Palisade was stunned June 19 when Gabriel Hellmann drowned in a private pond on East Orchard Mesa.

His drowning was selected the No. 6 local sports story of 2011 by the Sentinel staff.

Hellmann would have been a senior at Palisade High School and played baseball and basketball. He also was an honor student.

Said Palisade principal Matt Diers the Monday after Hellmann’s death: “He was just a kid who always was on the forefront of many things. It’s just a shame for the community.”

Palisade’s American Legion baseball team played the rest of the summer in memory of him.

They inscribed his jersey number on the side of their caps and won 22 consecutive games to qualify for the state tournament.

This season, Palisade has memorialized Hellmann in many ways, including selling T-shirts with his number. A few players on the girls basketball team have worn fluorescent-colored shoelaces in part to remember the 17-year-old.

The Palisade boys basketball team reportedly plans to honor Hellmann during senior night.

Hellmann died after he went into the pond from a kayak to retrieve a dropped fishing pole. Witnesses said he resurfaced once, then disappeared in the pond just west of 499 30¾ Road.

— Nick Walter

No. 7: District 51 budget cuts

Talk of possibly axing certain high school sports or consolidating teams had local student-athletes in limbo this summer.

District 51 ended up losing $200,000 in sports funding from the previous season, but did not have to cut any sports.

Because of the cuts, the district began providing one-way transportation for middle school athletes going to sporting events in town. Moreover, high school teams began traveling less, especially to the Front Range and money for equipment was slashed to $5,000 for all sports except football.

The district has had to find money for 154 helmets because the district’s old helmets were outdated, and had $60,195 budgeted for travel among the 172 varsity programs.

“That’s not much,” District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain said.

Cain said he does not know if sports will have to be cut next season.

“We’re getting mixed messages from the state on whether there will be cuts or not,” Cain said. “If they cut us more, we’ll be down to the bare bones and probably look at some options.”

— Nick Walter

No. 8: Glacier still closed, but skaters find a home

Losing Grand Junction’s first indoor ice rink didn’t turn away the Grand Valley Youth Hockey Association.

One team, the Grand Valley Junior Mavericks 10-under team, managed to win the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association squirt division state title in March without one home game.

With the closure of Glacier Ice Arena, the Mavericks had to schedule dry-land practices at Canyon View Park and occasional practices on the weekend in Craig when they weren’t playing.

In the meantime, Ice Skating, Inc., a non-profit group, raised enough money to put a sheet of ice for the winter at the old Hockey Stop, 1130 N. 3rd St.

The outdoor skating center opened in November with a Learn to Skate program that drew more than 40 children.

The Grand Valley Youth Hockey Association, which has teams in five age categories, has begun using the facility for practices, but will play all games on the road.

— Allen Gemaehlich

No. 9: Navarro wins JUCO title

Whatever works. And for Navarro (Texas) College, it was a Texas pond turtle named Rally.

A couple of Navarro players found a turtle in their dugout in April and took it as a sign of good luck.

That palm-sized good-luck charm was with the Bulldogs all the way to the JUCO championship, a thrilling 6-4 win over Central Arizona College in 10 innings.

Tournament MVP J.T. Files hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th, setting off a wild celebration and the fulfillment of a promise by coach Whoa Dill.

Until then, Dill had refused to touch the turtle. Christian Slater held Rally out to his coach, and Dill, true to his word, leaned over and gave Rally a quick peck on the shell.

The turtle ended up with his own Facebook page (Rally T Turtle), complete with 354 friends.

After the season, Rally went to live at Bowie Elementary School in Corsicana, Texas, where Dill’s wife teaches.

“That’ll be his offseason home,” Dill said.

— Patti Arnold

No. 10: Mesa State becomes Colorado Mesa

Colorado Mesa went with an identity change along with changing its name from Mesa State College this past summer.

The athletic department has 15 “official” logos, not counting the Maverick head, with various color combinations. The logos include CMU, Mavericks, Colorado Mesa Mavericks and Mavs.

The football helmets featured a new maroon “CMU” logo trimmed in black on the maroon background.

The athletic department switched to one uniform supplier, Nike, to help with costs and to make sure all the uniforms are the official colors, maroon, athletic gold and black.

— Allen Gemaehlich


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