ODESSA — Two communities rattled by recent tragedy gathered Thursday at Ratliff Stadium for something normal: Texas high school football.
El Paso Franklin, whose city was the scene of a mass shooting Aug. 3, traveled here to take on Permian, where another shooting took place Saturday. It was a chance for it to be a regular fall evening for the two communities.
“I think that just the mere fact that we’re doing this is doing the healing process for us,” El Paso ISD Athletic Director Maria Kennedy said. “For our kids, for our communities, for our parents, for whoever … such a horrible tragedy like this one and the one in El Paso, so many great things have come from it bringing everyone together.”
Cheerleaders and student leaders from both schools met at midfield before the game. It’s a game night tradition in Texa, but on Thursday it meant more.
Franklin presented Permian with a banner with Odessa written above Strong and El Paso under it, the ‘O’ in Strong represented by a heart. Permian presented Franklin with a banner reading #WestTexasStrong and both school’s logos. Both were signed by students and teachers from the respective schools.
“This past week has been a hard week for all of us. I feel like it’s been a big change,” Permian Student Senate president Hannah Gore said. “For us to have something like this helps to get our spirit back. We’re playing a school that’s been through the exact same thing, so I feel like all of us are trying to be there for each other.
“El Paso’s been there for us, all these communities around Odessa and all of Texas have been supporting us. I think this is good to get our minds off of it … and help us think of something else other than this big tragedy.”
Ector County ISD Athletic Director Bruce McCrary said there was never a discussion about canceling Thursday night’s football game or any other athletic event following the shooting. Instead, Odessa and Permian were going to use the opportunity to bring good out of something horrible
Franklin won Thursday’s game, 49-28.
Adversity is something brought up in athletics on a regular basis, and it became real life last weekend.
“Adversity brings opportunity,” McCreary said. “We had some adversity, now we’re having opportunities to make some positive things out of that.”
Inside the stadium was a table with information on counseling. There also were comfort dogs from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry. It’s a group that has become all too familiar with the situation after spending time in El Paso at the beginning of August.
“This is a unique situation for us because we went out to El Paso for two weeks after their tragedy,” LCC’s Southwest Regional Director Janice Marut said. “Some of the same dogs and some of the same people are having an opportunity to see this other (tragedy) … I hope the result of tonight is healing for both sides. I don’t think there’s going to be a loser left on the field.”
The theme of Odessa Permian’s halftime marching band show is in honor of the school’s 60th anniversary. But Thursday, there was another important message: love.
As the marching band spelled the word “love” out at midfield, a solo of “Amazing Grace” was played, followed by another standing ovation, one of several on the night — for the athletes, for the spirit squads, for first responders and for two communities tying to heal.
“That’s the key with kids: Get them back to normal,” McCreary said. “Getting them back into a routine and getting them together and letting them talk through it … It affected a lot more people than just the victims from all that trauma. I think it’s a big deal to get back into a routine, have an event.”
Both teams’ cheerleaders wore black ribbons on their uniforms, and Permian cheerleaders had yellow ribbons in their hair. The Permian student section also had plenty of yellow in honor and remembrance of Odessa High student Leilah Hernandez, who was killed in last week’s shooting.
There were reminders of the tragedy, but it was also a chance to return to normal. To come together and enjoy high school football in West Texas.
“I feel like stuff like this has really helped us,” Gore said. “… Football and school have always helped us get out of it and think back on all of the good things instead of the bad.”