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Sierra athletes honor their biggest fan
After crossing the finish line, Sierra High senior Dustin Kotel is greeted by a vinyl sign held by members of Sierras track team. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

You have probably seen him at a Sierra High athletic event.

You most definitely heard him.

He was the scrawny kid in glasses, incessantly stomping the bleachers, heckling the officials, holding up various signs while leading cheers from the stands.

He’d stick out even more at basketball games with sparse crowds, aggravating visiting fans and players to his enormous heart’s delight.

Last Thursday at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium, Sierra athletes had their own special way of saying “Thank you” to the one-of-a-kind Dustin Kotel.

On this day, they held signs with his name on it and obnoxiously cheered him on as he competed in a high school sports event for the first time.

The 19-year-old senior, who suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), was the star.

“I’m usually the one doing the cheering, so that was exciting,” he said.

Kotel ran the 200-meter dash during the track team’s final Valley Oak League dual meet against Oakdale. He won his flight in 31.33 seconds.

“I beat my personal record!” he proclaimed, with two triumphant fists piercing the air.

“Yeah, that was your one and only PR,” said his dad, Robert.

It’s clear where Dustin gets his sense of humor from.

Joining the Pack

Dustin Kotel’s life began to change on November, 7, 2008.

That was when Sierra High’s football team battled Oakdale for the VOL championship.

Kotel was a mere freshman pup on campus, and his dad took him to watch his first game. That was the night his father encouraged Kotel to be a part of the Wolf Pack — Sierra’s rabid cheering section. He admittedly had selfish reasons.

“He was screaming and yelling, and I was trying to watch the game,” Robert said. “Well, the Wolf Pack was there, and I said, ‘Dude, you need to go over there and let dad be.’

“The next day he called to tell me he had joined the Wolf Pack, and I said, ‘Good. Now I can watch the game in peace.’”

Young Kotel’s legend quickly grew from there.

“I went from being a no one to a somebody since my dad had me be with the Wolf Pack,” Dustin said. “Since then, I’ve been to mostly any (event) that I could make it to.”

He became a somebody, all right.

Robert recalls a conversation he had with a cheerleader from a rival school while in line at the DMV office in town.

She asked about “this one kid that just screams and yells” at basketball games, adding that she “can’t wait until he graduates.”

“I said, ‘Yeah, me, too.’” Robert said. “She said, ‘Why, you guys can’t stand him either?’ When I told her he is my son she just turned 20 shades of red.”

20 shades of blue

Dustin has been a part of history at Sierra High.

His freshman year, the Timberwolves’ football team qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time, and the following season it captured a share of its first league championship and reached the SJS Division III semifinals.

Kotel was at The Corral when Sierra stunned Oakdale 44-42 in an epic showdown, and it remains as one of his favorite highlights as a member of the Wolf Pack. That was also the year that he started a tradition of running back and forth in the stands with a sign raised above his head after every touchdown Sierra scored.

He was also on the gym floor — Tebowing, of course — this past winter when the boys basketball team claimed the outright VOL championship while in the middle of a program-record 26-game winning streak.

As a junior, Kotel was crowned Winterfest King at a basketball game. He has earned spirit awards and even a varsity letter for his time served as team manager for the track program.

“He is definitely Mr. Timberwolf, and that is not a title we throw around lightly,” said Anthony Chapman, Sierra’s athletic director who asked Kotel to be the track team’s manager his freshman year.

The finish line

Dustin knew something was up when his dad took him to a doctor’s office for a physical last month.

The day before his big meet he found out why.

“I was told that I’m running the 200,” he said. “They gave me my own uniform and everything. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’”

The 200 race is one of the last events at track meets, so Dustin had time to mingle among peers as a fellow athlete.

Then the announcement came: “First call, varsity boys 200 meters. First call.”

Nerves took over in a hurry. He coped in his own self-deprecatingly humorous way.

“I wasn’t worried about winning,” Dustin said. “I just didn’t want to fall.”

Well, he won. And he didn’t fall.

Kotel exploded off his block and was well ahead by the 100-meter mark. Down the straightaway he could hear teammates rooting him on from the infield, and as he neared the finish the support came thundering down from the stands.

With tongue wagging and limbs pumping, he looked up to glance at his destination and was shocked at what he saw — four Sierra athletes holding up a vinyl banner that read: “HEY DUSTIN, THIS SIGN IS FOR YOU. FROM: SHS ATHLETES.”

“With about 50 meters left I looked up and I went, ‘Uh, OK. There’s a big sign there with my name on it,” he said. “Let’s go after it.’”

The surprise didn’t end there. Dustin, it turns out, was greeted with much more.

Any and every Sierra High athlete in attendance rushed around him near the finish line. He was lifted onto someone’s shoulders and escorted back to the infield like a conquering hero.

“I really wasn’t expecting everyone to swarm around me like that,” he said. “That was pretty awesome.”

At that moment, it wasn’t about wins, losses and championships. It was about Dustin Kotel.

Among the teary-eyed was Chapman.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “He’s a special kid who is a special part of our campus. This wasn’t just about track; there were kids from baseball, softball and basketball here — almost every sport was represented. I think that says a lot about the students that we have here at this school.”

It also says a lot about Dustin.