OLu vs. Servite: He lost the game, she dropped the ball, but at the end, he won her hand in marriage

He taunted his girlfriend, threatening to propose to her at the 50-yard-line at a Servite vs. Orange Lutheran high school football game.

She told him no. She’s too shy, she said. She would not, under any circumstances, walk out to the 50-yard-line of a Servite vs. Orange Lutheran football game.

Because Chaz Kekipi didn’t listen to Karen Zieger, fans of both high schools got to see one of the great trick plays of all time Oct. 16. Kekipi, a Servite athletic trainer, proposed to Zieger, an Orange Lutheran athletic trainer, on the 50-yard-line with players from both teams cheering them on.

He got down on his knee. She cried and said yes.

But that’s not the dramatic part.

How he got her to participate at all – when she forbade him to propose that way – is the dramatic part.

“It was amazing, and it was surreal,” Karen Zieger said, an engagement ring shining on her finger. The couple plans to be married June 3, 2016, “in the dead weeks between the end of the school year and the start of summer football,” Zieger said.

They met at the Servite vs. Orange Lutheran football game in 2012. Sports had always been a big part of their lives. She had been a volleyball trainer at UC Irvine. He had been a football player at Chapman University.

“He was a smart, nice guy,” said Zieger, 29.

“She had the whole athletic trainer look going on – glasses, polo shirt, khakis,” said Kekipi, 30.

They became friendly, but they worked at rival schools. Their relationship didn’t have much of a chance.

“Our coaches are always saying ‘Why are you being nice to those guys?’” Zieger said. “It’s game time. We’ve got a job to do. Beat Servite.”

They got to know each other better at a conference of athletic trainers in Palm Springs in 2014. They went to dinner a couple of times. There were a couple of lunches too. She remembers the day that flowers arrived in the Orange Lutheran training office. They were tulips, her favorite.

“Will you go on a real live date with me?” he wrote in the card.

Early in their dating relationship, they both acknowledged how their lives revolved around high school football. That’s when Kekipi said he was going to propose to her on the 50-yard-line, and she told him to do no such thing.

Mostly, they spend their dates talking about knee injuries and sports rehab techniques.

In June, this year, he decided to make it official. Without telling her, Kekipi asked Zieger’s father Randy for permission to marry his daughter. Secretly, Kekipi joked with her father about proposing on the 50-yard-line.

Her father loved the idea. So Kekipi picked Oct. 16 as the date – Servite vs. Orange Lutheran. He said he was sure, at the time, Servite would win the game, and he would be in a joyful mood.

He was wrong. Orange Lutheran scored a touchdown in the last second, and pulled off the stunning victory, 37-36.

That wasn’t his only problem.

How was he going to get Zieger on the field and keep the proposal a surprise?

Servite athletic secretary Ann Cross came up with the winning idea. She suggested a fake “Athletic Trainer Appreciation Night.”

Servite’s sports information director Karlie Carlson wrote up a fake script for the fake event. At the conclusion of the game, trainers from both schools were to be honored at the 50-yard-line.

Zieger was really suspicious. Why would schools be honoring their trainers?

“I don’t know,” Kekipi lied. “Just go with it.”

Her mother saved the day. Barbara Zieger called Karen the day before the game and said that she and her father wouldn’t be staying for the whole thing.

If he was going to propose, why would her parents leave early, Zieger thought. The trick worked.

During the game, the announcer kept reminding the crowd to stick around after the game to honor the trainers.

At the end of the game, players from both schools lined up on the field. The names of the trainers from each school were announced over the loud speaker.

When Karen Zieger’s name was announced, she was presented a bouquet of flowers and a football by Servite assistant athletic director Joel Hartmann.

He mistakenly handed her the ball with the words “Marry Me?” face up.

They were supposed to be face down.

Before Kekipi could get on a knee, she was already crying. She dropped the flowers and the football.

“I’m freaking out like a little girl,” Zieger said. “I nodded yes because I couldn’t talk.”

(Asked what he was thinking as he asked her to marry him, Kekipi said, “Honestly, we just lost by one point.”)

Kekipi, who is 6-foot-1, 300 pounds, picked up Zieger and spun her around as players from both teams cheered wildly.

“It brought two school cultures together,” Kekipi said. “There’s something bigger in life than the game.”

Leave a Reply