1992 NFL Super Bowl MVP Rypien pays visit to Willard Elementary sixth-graders

<p><p>Retired NFL quarterback and 1992 Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien’s knees are a little bowed after repeated surgeries, but he still loves to talk about his experiences as a professional football player and throw the football to excited elementary school students.</p></p><p><p>Rypien spent part of his afternoon Friday at Willard Elementary, signing autographs for the school staff and throwing a football to sixth-grade students as a reward for good behavior. The afternoon was organized by former professional boxer and boxing coach Chauncy Welliver, who works as a classroom aide at the school.</p></p><p><!–[photoset id=11541]–></p><p><p>Welliver said he started working at the school, where his daughter is a second-grader, this year. “I love the school,” he said. “I wanted to reward the sixth graders. They’re really good to each other.”</p></p><p><p>Most of the kids love sports, so Welliver hatched the plan to bring Rypien to the school, in part as a reward and in part to inspire the students that they can do anything they put their mind to. “When I was in second grade, I met Mark,” he said. “It stuck with me.”</p></p><p><p>It was clear that some of the students didn’t know who Rypien was, but most were familiar with Andrew Rypien Field in Hillyard, which was named in honor of Rypien’s son, who died of cancer at the age of 3. He spoke briefly about his son before showing the students a clip of the game winning touchdown pass Rypien threw in the 1992 Super Bowl the Washington Redskins won against the Buffalo Bills. He even attempted to reenact the victory dance he did on the field after the touchdown, much to the students’ delight.</p></p><p><p>Rypien encouraged the students to go after their dreams. “You can accomplish anything you want to,” he said. “You can spread your wings and do whatever you want, wherever you want.”</p></p><p><p>Welliver pointed out that a number of professional athletes, including former NBA basketball player John Stockton, are from Spokane. “You’ve got two world champions here in one city,” Welliver said.</p></p><p><p>Rypien made it a point to mention his Spokane roots. “This is my hometown,” he said. “I’ve spent more of my life here.”</p></p><p><p>He patiently answered the many questions posed by students who were curious about everything from the number of games he played to how he felt when his old team changed their name. He talked to them about how he felt being on a team of athletes all working together toward a common goal.</p></p><p><p>“It’s one of the greatest games ever,” he said of football. “It’s a chess match.”</p></p><p><p>He showed the students his Super Bowl XXVI ring and allowed quite a few of them to touch it before everyone went outside.</p></p><p><p>The students formed lines, and Rypien was soon quickly tossing the ball to students as they ran down the field. Students and teachers cheered when anyone was successful in catching a pass. The cheers got louder when teachers recruited some students to run offense, making it tougher for their fellow students to catch the ball.</p></p><p><p>Student Diogo Hernandez was the first person to catch a ball thrown by Rypien.</p></p><p><p>“I was really excited when I first met him,” he said, confessing he was surprised he was able to catch the ball.</p></p><p><p>“I just trusted myself and I caught it,” he said. “You just have to believe in yourself.”</p></p><p><p>When it was time to go back inside and pick up a specialT-shirt Welliver had made for the occasion, the students and Rypien seemed pleased by the afternoon.</p></p><p><p>“Thank you, guys,” Rypien said. “That was fun.”</p></p><p><p>———</p></p><p><p>Correspondent Nina Culver can be reached at nculver47@gmail.com.</p></p>