By Dency McClure
We arrived in Sierra Blanca right as school was letting out. Kids and parents everywhere. I always enjoy the school craziness at the end of the school day. We drove completely around the school and parked close to the home bleachers.
The first person we met was Elvis Bustamante, and she told us she has been faithfully running chains there for 27 years. Found out later when I met her husband, Hawk, that they have been running chains together on the sidelines those 27 years. I love learning these amazing kinds of things. I asked later if they were school employees and was told they were faithful members of the community and not paid employees. When a school has a couple like this faithfully running chains for almost three decades, they are blessed with love and commitment. The other member of the chain gang has been helping out for three years. In Sierra Blanca, there is no last minute scrambling to find a chain crew.
We got there early enough to catch the coaches for quick visits while the jr high boys were warming up. Not sure warming up is the right term as it was in the forties, the wind was blowing and there was a dampness in the air. Everyone was pulling out the winter wear that had long been tucked away. Having to re-adapt to taking photos with all the extra layers of gloves, hoodie, etc takes some getting used to, but it is always worth it to share the field with the greatest players on earth; Texas Six-man players.
Michael and I rarely get to just enjoy watching a game anymore so it was great fun to watch the jr high play. Little #13 on the Sierra Blanca sidelines stole my heart. I asked some of the high school boys that were in the press box running the clock and things what grade he was in and they told me sixth. Miguel Pantoja chuckled that his thigh pads had become knee pads. He was truly swallowed by his uniform, but I bet he was warmer because of it.
We had a fun time visiting with the group of high school boys in the press box during the jr high game. Michael helped them with a few questions about when to stop and start the clock, and he jumped in to run it when they had to go get suited out for their own game. They asked us all kinds of questions about who we had covered and what we thought about some teams. They asked about Strawn, Garden City, White Deer, and a few others.
During the varsity games, the Sheriff does the announcing and the Superintendent’s husband runs the clock. Michael told me he had a great time with these two gentlemen during the game. They told him after the game that if he comes back, they might put a door on the press box. The Sheriff teased over the intercom, during the game, that they shouldn’t have let the kids take the press box door for the bonfire. Not sure what the real story is on the press box door, but it made for some great conversation and laughs.
I have to tell you, I’ve been yes ma'am addressed from an early age because of where I’m from, but I have to say, I was paid that honor more in Sierra Blanca than anywhere I have ever been. It wasn’t a thought or an add on, it was a speech pattern. Full respect and kindness from all ages.
I ran into Opie Stewart in the parking lot, a working cowboy for hire, and a junior at Sierra Blanca. He apologized for not tipping his hat when he first greeted me, but his hands were a bit full. He told me he works on lots of different ranches in the area building fences or whatever work is needed to keep a ranch running. He doesn’t personally play sports, but he enjoys coming to the games and supporting his team.
Lots of sounds on the sidelines during the game. There were no bells or air horns but lots of fans were at the ready with their car horns. Every Sierra Blanca touchdown brought on lots of honking horns of excitement. The train tracks aren’t far from the school and all kinds of trains rushed by throughout the game. I lost count after five, so that tells you the trains were whizzing by regularly. Sideline coaches were hanging on the fences on both sides of the field. Both sets of cheerleaders were cheering at the field. The Sanderson cheer sponsor was leading their squad up and down the field, the entire game, making sure they kept the chants going to pump up the boys.
I saw a compassion I have never seen before at this game. During the halftime student night ceremony, one player was obviously stuck with grief when his name was called. The entire team left their spots on the field, ran to him and circled him. A few lingered with him after giving hugs and support. I saw this same kind of compassion after the game as well. It’s normal to see the good game handshake and shoulder slap and sometimes short conversations between teams after a game, but this went beyond that. One player from the Sanderson team stayed to the side and kneeled down on the field. A Sierra Blanca player saw him and ran over to him and kneeled with him and put his hand on his back. The two shared a moment in time before some Sanderson players joined them. The after game conversations between the two teams lasted longer than what I’m used to, and the hugs were more frequent. It was like these kids all new each other well and were childhood friends. For such a close close game, I was honored to see this kind of relationship among all the players.
See you on the sidelines!