Members of the community came out in droves to the Yelm High School stadium on Monday, Jan. 23, to celebrate the city’s first ever 3A state championship win in football.
At the event, which was hosted by the City of Yelm and Yelm Community Schools, Northwest Chevrolet loaned 10 trucks that were used to drive athletes down Tornado Alley at Yelm High School before the coaches and players took their seats on the sideline.
“This is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I wish I could’ve won a state championship like you guys did,” Yelm Mayor Joe DePinto said to the crowd. “To bring a state championship to Yelm is something special and I hope you guys can do it again next year. What an incredible last play. I thought it was over and I think we all did.”
Yelm’s Head Coach Jason Ronquillo then took to the podium to reflect on the team’s journey to their championship victory.
“I’m very blessed to be the head coach of this team. It’s been a blessing since I first got here,” Ronquillo said. “Not everybody has liked me along this nine-year journey, but I learned long ago that if I wanted to be liked, I’d go sell ice cream and everyone would like me. What I learned a long time ago from mentors in my past, is that passion looks like aggression to the unmotivated.”
Ronquillo said from the start of the season on June 25 at the Pacific Lutheran Football camp, his team displayed passion and grit.
“I’ll defend these kids until the day that I die. Their passion for football is unprecedented, all the way until the end. I absolutely love that about them and I’d go to the end of the world with these dudes,” Ronquillo said. “They can play some football.”
Ronquillo, who will enter his 10th season at the helm of the program, said he was given a record book from administration when he was hired in 2013. After looking through the book, he realized Yelm’s football team had never come close to a state championship.
“Who knows if this is ever going to happen again, you don’t know. A lot of people go through their entire lives without ever experiencing what these guys experienced,” Ronquillo said. “They’ll go to weddings, reunions, social gatherings one day 30 years down the road, and they’ll have this memory that not a lot of people have. And I love that for them.”
Ronquillo said the team was prepared, and noted their intensity, passion and energy for the game.
“The most important element that these young men will take with them throughout life is resiliency,” Ronquillo said. “When we played Bellevue, when we played Eastside Catholic, we won those games in the last minute of the game. The very last minute of the game, and that takes resiliency, something a lot of people don’t have.”
Nick Allard, a 1999 graduate of Yelm High School who currently works at KIRO 7 News, said he was able to attend two of the team’s games this season, which included the state championship in Puyallup on Dec. 3.
“The part that I appreciate about (the championship win), and right now, is how tight knit Yelm is,” Allard said. “It’s a very tight knit town. We’re not fancy, we’re not huge, but I think we like that.”
Perhaps the biggest announcement that occurred at the state championship celebration was when Allard announced the state championship rings for the players were paid for through donations.
“Yes you won state, yes you’re going to get championship rings. But did you know that Yelm got together, a bunch of anonymous donors and local businesses, and raised over $22,000 so that the rings are free?” Allard said, to a roaring applause from fans in attendance. “You should be very proud of that, you really should be. … Yelm really is a fantastic place. I’m happy to say I’m from here and I’m happy I got to watch some fantastic football this year. Congratulations to you all, cherish those rings, cherish these years, and cherish that team. Go Tornados.”
Yelm Community Schools Superintendent Brian Wharton thanked the local businesses and organizations that supported the Tornados throughout the season.
“When I was preparing for today’s event, I had this wonderful speech all written out. It was in a binder and it was leather bound. I got here and Kyler Ronquillo came up behind me and stole it. Now I know what the end of the game felt like,” Wharton jokingly said in reference to Ronquillo stealing an interception from an Eastside Catholic defender to win the state championship.
Wharton thanked the businesses who donated meals to the team throughout the season and playoffs and also thanked those who donated tickets and rooter buses so students from the high school could attend postseason games, as well as the many sponsors who helped along the way.
Senior Kyler Ronquillo, who secured the winning play, thanked the community for their love and support throughout the season.
“I hope you guys know how important you are to these kids’ lives. I can tell you, personally, that you deserve so much appreciation and I’m here to let you know that you really are super important,” Kyler Ronquillo said. “You changed a lot of these kids’ lives, and you may not know it or you may know it, but you saved some kids and improved people’s lives. We wouldn’t be who we are without you guys, the community.”
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