When the Artesia Bulldogs plot their lineup for the upcoming year, there’s one position they know is not going to change. That’s because there is a 100% chance that local Bulldog superfan Ryder Champion will be back, helping provide water to the athletes battling for the Bulldogs.
“Ryder has been one of the most enjoyable young men that has worked with us, because he is very dependable and very loyal,” declared Artesia High School Athletic Director Cooper Henderson. “I’d also have to rate him among the top of Bulldog fans.”
Ryder, who has Down Syndrome, has supported the Bulldogs by working as their water boy since he was nine years old. His brother, J.D., was a sophomore advancing his way through the Artesia sports circuit as a team standout when Ryder was first recruited to help the program.
“My brother was playing football, and they asked me if I wanted to do it, to help give water out to the guys and take care of them,” recalled Ryder, moments before getting back to work at an Artesia basketball game. “I said, ‘Yes.’”
“Ryder always loved being with people, and he was really into sports,” remembered J.D., who now lives in Lubbock with his family. “We thought this would be a good way for him to be involved, and it ended up being a lifetime.”
Since then, Ryder, now 34, has helped refresh the local team at thousands of football, basketball and baseball games. He is also a huge fan of the Lady Bulldogs and attends as many games as he is able.
Ryder’s role as water boy changed a little bit after he finished high school in 1995. He no longer assists with practices, but he has continued to work the water cooler at nearly every game for the past 25 years. He positions himself on one end of the Bulldog bench and makes sure each new crop of thirsty athletes are being provided for.
“They keep asking me if I want to keep doing it, and I said, ‘Yes, sir!’” he proclaimed. “I plan on doing this for the rest of my life!”
When he isn’t assisting at Bulldog games, Ryder is active through the Aspire Developmental Services program, which provides community outings Monday through Friday.
The agency now has an office at 1211 W. Main Street in Artesia. The organization’s mission statement is to “support and assist individuals challenged with developmental disabilities in a manner that is dignified, respectful and compassionate.” Ryder said he enjoys the trips to McDonald’s and Walmart.
On weekends, Ryder enjoys visiting his parents and watching television, and he is particularly a fan of professional wrestling. He recently attended a wrestling event in Hobbs and was awed by the fact that the participants towered over him. Facebook reveals him to also be an avid Denver Broncos fan.
Ryder’s parents, local business owners Richard and Janis Champion, added that they are very appreciative of all the positive attention he receives every year, including a special honor during the Bulldogs’ seasonal athletics banquets.
“The community is very supportive of him,” affirmed Richard. “Everybody in town knows him and talks to him.”
Janis noted that her son takes his job very seriously. Woe to the Artesia athlete who attempts to bypass Ryder’s policies.
“He’s very particular about how he does it,” she remarked.
Henderson, Artesia’s longtime head football coach, stressed that being a water boy is something to be proud of. “For me, it’s kind of a serving position. It’s a sense of helping others,” he mused.
While Ryder takes his duties extremely seriously, J.D. said the relationships he has developed over the years are the most important part of the service. “He saw the Bulldogs as his own,” he observed. “It’s been very positive for him, but I think he has been just as positive for other people.”
J.D. has coached and taught over the years and emphasized that his family very much appreciates the community for being such a good friend to Ryder. “He always had someone giving him a ride home if he didn’t have a ride or buying him dinner. It’s multi-generational. He has worked with kids who were my age and now a lot of their kids. I think he’s been a part of 15 or 16 state championships now.”
Even in a City of Champions, Ryder Champion stands out.