Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Columbine Courier on March 21, 2007.
A child’s high school experience can either be one of the best times of their life, or one of the worst.
For Peter Horvath, he has nothing but fond memories of his time at Arapahoe High School; and it’s those memories that spurred his decision to get into coaching and physical education.
The decision proved to a wise one.
Horvath is in his 24th year coaching girls and boys soccer at Columbine High School. In that time, he’s established both programs as perennial state title contenders.
The numbers of Horvath’s accomplishments are too long to list, but here’s a small sampling of what his teams have accomplished: 584 wins, 19 league titles, 8 state runners-up and 3 state championships (1986, 1993 and 2002; all won by the boys’ teams).
“When you’re lucky enough to beat Peter’s team, you know you’re on your game mentally as a coach,” Chatfield girls soccer coach Brock Blume said. “He’s very professional and even in the thin years when his teams aren’t as talented, he finds ways to
get the most out of his kids.”
Making history at a young age
Like most good soccer players, Horvath set out on the pitch in his early years; starting his playing career around the age of seven. He moved his way up through the various youth leagues before landing a spot on Arapahoe’s boys varsity team as a forward.
In Horvath’s junior year, the Warriors lost in the state final. A year later, the team redeemed itself and scored a 2-1 overtime win over Bear Creek to earn the state title.
“Arapahoe is where I molded myself as a person and as a player,” Horvath said.
After high school, Horvath spent two years playing soccer on the collegiate level at Midwestern State University.
Following his stint at Midwestern State, Horvath achieved the goal of playing professional soccer, spending two seasons playing for a team in Texas. He then petitioned to get himself into the MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League) and was drafted by the Denver Avalanche. He played for the team for two years before they folded.
“It was fun,” Horvath said of his professional experience. “I was single at the time, living at home and making two-thousand dollars a month; I thought at the time that was great.”
Becoming a Rebel
Once Horvath’s playing days officially ended, he began to work his way into the coaching ranks. His first jobs were coaching the Littleton Bombers club team and also running the Olympic Developmental Program; in addition to being an assistant for the Heritage girls’ team.
In 1983, Horvath made the move to Columbine, where he was named the boys and girls varsity coach. His first year was a sign of things to come; both teams won the league title, with the girls posting an 11-0 mark in league play.
Three years later, Horvath would lead the boys’ team to its first state title with a 16-1-1 record. In 1993 and 2002, the Rebel boys were again kings of the hill. Along the way, both teams won numerous league titles and the girls’ teams posted four state runners-up finishes from 1993 to 1999.
The ’99 season is one that holds a special place in Horvath’s heart.
As we all know, the year 1999 will always be remembered for the school shooting that took place. But, what took place shortly after the shooting epitomized the spirit of the Columbine community.
The girls’ team ran through the Jefferson County League, winning the league title with an 8-0-1 record. They went on to the state tournament and made a galvanizing run to the state title before ultimately falling in the finals.
Horvath recalls the day of the championship game well.
“I remember the bus pulling up to Englewood High School and one of the first people I saw was Frank (DeAngelis, Columbine principal), Horvath said. “There was more security at that game than normal because of what had happened earlier in the year. It was an emotional feeling arriving for the finals; you could tell that we had reached the pinnacle and the kids didn’t have a lot left in the tank by that point.
“I was so proud of kids for rallying together and fighting through all of that adversity.”
Horvath also fondly remembers a boys’ regular season game between Columbine and Chatfield in 199. It’s a game that some people still talk about to this day.
“We played Chatfield at Lakewood Memorial (Field) on a Saturday afternoon,” Horvath said. “Peter Mehlbach was coaching Chatfield at the time and they’d won their league and we had one more league game to go (this was back when there was a 6A classification, which Columbine played in; Chatfield was 5A). We hadn’t played each other yet, and it was one of the best league games ever.
“I’ve never seen Lakewood Memorial as packed as it was that day. I think there were close to 2,000 people there and it was a great game. I don’t recall the score, but Chatfield won. For a regular season game, it was the biggest game I’ve ever been a part of.”
A fierce competitor
Chatfield boys soccer coach and D’Evelyn girls soccer coach Paul Moline perhaps knows Horvath better than most of his contemporaries.
After all, Moline played for Horvath for two years at Columbine.
“I remember breaking my leg during a summer tournament and being in a cast and Peter still took me on as a part of his team,” Moline said. “In the early days at Columbine we had a lot of talent and Peter didn’t have to keep me on the team and he did and that’s always meant a lot to me.”
But, when it comes time for the two to meet on the pitch, don’t expect any long pre-game conversations between the two.
“Peter is so professional,” Moline said. “He’s so focused on getting his kids ready for the games, and I respect that about him. We always find time to talk after the game.”
Mountain Vista coach Theresa Echtermeyer admires Horvath for his dedication to his players.
“His sense of loyalty is really admirable,” said Echtermeyer, whose Golden Eagles knocked Columbine out of the 5A girls state tournament in the quarterfinals last year. They also defeated the Rebels on a last-minute goal in the regular season. “Club sports have grown but Peter’s stuck to his roots and is teaching the importance of being an academic scholar first and an athlete second. To show that dedication and discipline, it’s a great thing.”
“A rock of the athletic
That’s how Columbine athletic director Ed Woytek describes Horvath. Not just for what he’s accomplished on the soccer pitch, but for what he’s been able to do in the physical education department at the school.
“He and Andy (Lowry, Columbine’s football coach) do such a great job with the kids,” Woytek said. “He’s so professional and so giving in terms of what he’s doing.”
Horvath said giving kids a foundation to build upon later in life is what is important to him.
“I think helping kids understand about nutrition and physical fitness is really important,” Horvath said. “Andy does such a great job with the weight program; it’s probably one of the best programs in the country on the high school level. We try to diversify our program and just make kids aware of a healthy lifestyle.”
To that end, Horvath has had to adjust some of his coaching philosophies.
With the boom of club sports in the past 10-15 years, Horvath realizes the tremendous strain some of the kids are under.
“I’ve definitely pulled back the reigns,” Horvath said. “You have to give the kids more time off, let them recover, because they are playing so much soccer. You have to be able to recognize the signs of burnout and try to prevent it, because that’s where injuries tend to happen. So, we’ll give the kids more days off and really talk with them about the importance of nutrition and getting the proper amount of rest.”
His players certainly appreciate the style of coaching he brings to the table.
“He’s probably one of the most supportive coaches I’ve ever had on and off the field,” Columbine senior keeper Christine DeLashmutt said. “He’ll push us at practice and make sure we get done what we need to get done. He’s really organized and hardly ever has a negative thing to say. He’s very encouraging to everyone.”
No end in sight
As for Horvath himself, he admits there’s been a few times where he’s wondered if he’s over-stayed his welcome or if his methods of coaching are getting through to his players.
But, he’s never seriously entertained the thought of coaching at another school, because for Horvath, it’s all about passing on what he got out of his high school experience to his players.
“For me, the big thing I try and get across to the kids is for them to try and soak up everything they can while they’re in the moment,” Horvath said. “I’ve talked about creating a snapshot of time, creating an experience that stays with them throughout their lives.
“My high school experience made a huge impact on me, and I see the difference it can make on a kid’s life at that age and that’s why I got into coaching, to make that change possible.”