High school football is religion in Texas, it's often said. The sport is a huge part of Texas life.
But when lives are taken, by natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, even the game all love becomes secondary.
While much of the Houston area grapples with historic rain from Hurricane Harvey and the lengthy clean-up process, 100 season-opening high school football games have already been cancelled this weekend, 18 have been rescheduled on drier ground and many student-athletes won't return to class until at least Sept. 5.
As rain continues to pound the Gulf Coast, no one is sure how many games — or if entire seasons — will be affected.
"Football takes a backseat to people's safety," said Crosby (Texas)
head football coach Jeff Riordan.
Harvey made landfall at 10 p.m. Friday near Corpus Christi with
Category 4 winds of 130 mph. By Saturday morning, some areas of Houston
had already soaked up 18 inches of rain. The system stalled over the
region and the rainfall totals continue to climb as the storm spins near Louisiana.
Thus far, at least nine have died in what officials are calling one of the biggest hurricanes to batter US mainland in more than a decade.
Texas' governing body for public school athletics is trying to soften
the blow of days lost to weather. The UIL on Monday announced it would
allow an exception to rules for schools impacted by Harvey. Mandatory
days between a scrimmage and a game would be reduced from five to four
for varsity teams. Scrimmages are allowed until a team plays its first
Sympathetic high school students from outside the stricken
area want to help. The Tuesday volleyball match between
Nelson (Trophy Club) and Coppell, non-perishable foods, toiletries and
other items will be collected for the victims of Harvey. Monetary
donations for the American Red Cross will also be accepted.
Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt is fronting a money-raising campaign
for storm relief and so far over $2 million has been raised. Watt
increased the goal to $3 million on Tuesday. Several NFL and MLB teams have donated money, as have celebrities.
East of Houston, Riordan set his alarm to wake up every hour in the wee hours of Tuesday morning so that he might check on rising water in the ditch behind his back fence. The rest of his family evacuated Friday to East Texas. At 4 a.m. the Cougars coach decided it was time to seek higher ground — the school field house.
Crosby has been hit with 40 inches of rain through Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
"This is my first hurricane, but everybody says this is the worst one because it won't move, it just keeps raining,'' Riordan said.
Tragic as the last few days have been, Riordan has seen his community unite. Volunteers are manning the middle school gym in Crosby that has been converted into a shelter for 500 evacuees. Some of Riordan's players have joined with the coach at the shelter where those in need are clothed and fed. Other players with access to boats have been involved in moving those stranded by high water to safety.
"It has been great to see the way people have come together to help,'' said the coach. "Our superintendent is making sure whatever is needed at the shelter is on hand. If we need (drinking) water, it is there in minutes.''
Crosby was to open the football season in a feature Class 5A match-up against Manvel on Friday with a crowd of 8,000 expected as well as an airplane flyover. That game was cancelled. Riordan said area Week 2 games could also be in jeopardy.
Many players left homeless might not be able to return the playing field at all. But Riordan, like Splendora (Texas)
fourth-year coach Marcus Schulz, is hopeful.
Schools, because of size and being on higher ground, have acted as safe havens for many displaced from their homes.
"Our community is strong and resilient," Schulz told the Houston Chronicle
. "I think the big thing now is prayer and praying for everybody."