Texas athletes rallying to rebuild community after Harvey: 'If anything, it’s going to make us stronger'

Photo: Rachel Denny Clow, Caller-Times

Texas athletes rallying to rebuild community after Harvey: 'If anything, it’s going to make us stronger'

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Texas athletes rallying to rebuild community after Harvey: 'If anything, it’s going to make us stronger'

Trey Upton spent the final Friday night before the start of his senior year hunkered down in a home with his family in Refugio. He woke up the next day to Hurricane Harvey’s wrath in his hometown to downed power lines, trees uprooted and debris everywhere, knowing his community and his life were changed.

Upton said his home had some roof damage, admitting “we got real lucky” and then he and his family began the process of cleaning up with his neighbors. Now a week later he is out in the community helping where he can.

Thursday he was unloading relief supplies at Our Lady of Refuge Church on the north side of the town, which a week later was still showing the signs of a direct hit from the massive storm.

RELATED: Seasons in jeopardy for Texas football teams affected by Hurricane Harvey | Longtime Clear Creek (Texas) football and track coach dies in Hurricane Harvey aftermath | Texas football team hosting fund-raiser for area communities affected by Hurricane Harvey

“It’s been rough, it’s rough on the community but we have really come together as a community and help each other out,” said Upton, an all-state offensive lineman for the Class 2A No. 1-ranked Bobcats. “We want to help everyone that needs help.”

Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas coastline from Corpus Christi to Sabine Pass, and the grand tradition of Friday night high school football in this football-mad state may help with the healing process. But it goes beyond football, it is volleyball teams returning to the gym or cross-country runners hitting the trails to continue to train.

High school sports in these small, ravaged communities can be the thing to help give a town a sense of normalcy but also let people know we are on the way to recovery.

“There’s not really a manual that anybody has that’s around,” said Aransas Pass head football coach and athletic director Ryan Knostman. “This is kind of uncharted waters, at least for me. I’m leaning on my assistant coaches that I have been around for a while.

“It’s going to go back to what we always tell the kids, life’s going to knock you down, it’s what you do afterwards. Our entire community is going to dust ourselves off and get going.”

Forty miles to the southeast of Refugio and about 30 minutes earlier the seaside communities of Rockport, Fulton, Ingleside, Port Aransas and Aransas Pass were taking the brunt of Harvey on Friday night.

Rockport-Fulton football lineman Luke Michael evacuated to his brother’s apartment in Austin but said he drove back with his father on Saturday to check on their home in Rockport. Michael said there was some damage to their home but they wanted to get back as soon as possible to help others. They returned to a landscape of downed power lines, crushed homes and the town’s signature oak trees split and uprooted everywhere.

“We drove through the storm to get to town to check on our personal belongings and check on our city because we cared so much,” Michael said on a hot Wednesday afternoon at the Rockport-Fulton fieldhouse.

Michael was part of a crew of Rockport-Fulton football players, athletes and students meeting at the high school each day since the storm to spread out into the town to help where they could. They cleared tree limbs or cleaned up debris, among other things. It was also a way for football coach Jay Seibert to gather his team in the wake of the storm.

This Friday night Rockport-Fulton was slated to play Aransas Pass in the season opener and now both schools are closed indefinitely as clean up efforts begin in their towns. Despite no school, areas still without power and water just coming back online, there is a determination to play sports again.

A determination shown by Seibert who said a voluntary workout was scheduled for Friday and Saturday, and full workouts would begin on Monday in preparation for next week’s game against Sinton. Refugio coach Jason Herring had a similar sentiment as did others who were affected — play as soon as possible.

“As long as we have 11 guys put the uniform on to go out and play we will go out and play,” an emotional Seibert said Wednesday.

“If anything, it’s going to make us stronger,” said Michael, an offensive guard for the Pirates. “We are going to become a better unit, become a better team because of this because we’ve all experienced something so traumatic and so devastating. People are going to say we are down and out for the count but we are not, we are here to stay and always will be.”

Because schools are closed, students can enroll in another school and play varsity athletics after 15 days or they can stay in the town and continue to work out with their teams. There was not a specific time table when schools such as Rockport-Fulton, Refugio, Port Aransas, Woodsboro, Ingleside, Aransas Pass and other communities affected would restart their school years.

Vicky Martin’s son, Charles Potter Jr., is a senior cross-country captain at Rockport-Fulton and lives in a neighborhood that will require massive rebuilding but Martin said Potter does not want to leave and she does not want to make him.

“He’s gone to kindergarten here and he doesn’t want to go and I’m not going to do that to him his senior year,” Martin said.

When athletics do resume, Martin said something like a football game or cross-country meet can help the students and the community know they are not giving up.

“It’ll make them strong and if we quit they will always have that in them,” Martin said. “They will feel like they failed. Life will always be a challenge for them but if they stay tighter and work together as a team they are going to gain strength and pride.”

Upton and the Bobcats were the top ranked team in Class 2A’s preseason rankings. Monday was supposed to start the school year in Refugio with Friday bringing a game against Hebbronville to begin their state championship defense.

This week, though, Hebbronville’s athletic department delivered supplies to the town.

Herring had tears in his eyes when multiple vehicles, including one with a trailer from Hebbronville, came to the church to unload supplies. Later they gathered for a photo outside the church, some with tears in their eyes.

“We are real close already and everybody is helping everybody,” Upton said. “We are making sure we can do whatever we need to help those people that have lost a lot more than others.”

Seibert stressed playing football can bring a sense of “normalcy” for the players and the community because a long recovery awaits. And high school sports will be just one small part of a massive recovery all along the Texas coast that will take years.

“Everybody is going to enjoy it and seeing all of us come together,” said Refugio football player Caleb Henning, who was also helping at Our Lady of Refuge on Thursday. “I think they are going to really appreciate that.”

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