Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Small Town Texas Tale

I heard a story this week, which I wanted to share on Thanksgiving. The story illustrates why I hold both Texas and its people in such high esteem.

Lucas, Texas is a small town (11.73 square miles, including lake water) with less than 1,000 households in north central Texas, close to the Oklahoma border (Map and stats courtesy of Wikipedia).

Lucas is an affluent little town with a median household income of just over $100,000.

Lovejoy High School is the only high school in Lucas. Lovejoy opened in the fall of 2006 and graduated its first class this past spring. Among the statistics the school has racked up over its short history:

  • In 2010, Lovejoy High School won the Lone Star Cup as the most successful 3A school in the state of Texas. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Lone Star Cup "recognizes high schools based on their overall team achievement in athletic and academic championships."

  • The volleyball team has won three state titles in 2008, 2009, and 2010

  • The football team reached the state semi-finals in the 2008-09 football season, which was the school's first year to ever have seniors

  • The men's and women's cross country teams both won the cross country state title in 2010

Jim Bob Puckett is the Athletic Director and the head football coach for Lovejoy. According to his CV here, Jim Bob is a native Texan, around 50 years old, and has been a part of Lovejoy since the school was in its development stage five years ago. The photo below comes from the school's website:

The 2009-10 football season has been a good one for Lovejoy, and the team was looking forward to making their division finals.

Earlier in the month, on November 5, Lovejoy was scheduled to play Nevada Community High School in their final regular season game. Prior to that game, Coach Puckett told the team that, if Lovejoy had a comfortable lead at half-time, he planned to pull some of his starters to allow the kids who had not gotten much time on the field a chance to play.

At the half, the score was 47-0 with Lovejoy in the lead.

I should probably mention that November 5 was Senior Night. And, kids being kids, three of the senior players broke a team rule during the half time.

I'm not going to identify the players by name nor the team rule they broke. If you've ever been eighteen on Senior Night, you can probably guess which rule it was.

Another student told his parents who, in turn, reported the violation to the school's administration. The administration advised Coach Puckett of the rumor.

And make no mistake. This was a rumor. No police officer had spotted the kids; no school official had noticed the violation. The Lovejoy Leopards won the game 68-0. Coach Puckett could have swept the mess under the rug and gone on to the playoffs with his very winning team intact.

Instead Jim Bob Puckett called a team meeting and demanded that each player provide a written AND SIGNED response to a number of questions. Those questions included: Have you ever broken a team rule? If so, which one? Do you know of any other player who has broken a team rule? If so, who and which rule?

Many of the players--including two of the November 5 miscreants
--answered honestly.

Coach Puckett kicked the three starters off the team, they were suspended from school for 45 days, and they will not be permitted to graduate with their class. Instead they will have to return to school in the summer to take another course before graduation.

Did I mention the positions the three boys played? Quarterback, tight end and wide receiver.

When the news hit the streets on November 12, Coach Puckett was asked who the students were. He declined to answer. However, when the team lineup changed that night, in a game with rival team A. Maceo Smith, the answer was pretty obvious.

Here's an excerpt from the school website's description of the 11/12/10 game:
... following on what has been an interesting week, to say the least, the Leopards came out as a team and thoroughly thrashed the Smith Falcons 56 to 22. Even with some lineup changes, Lovejoy showed its depth at all positions ...

Numerous distractions during the week could have derailed Lovejoy’s hopes for a deep playoff run. And while the Leopards’ dominating 56-22 victory over A. Maceo Smith seemed like the next logical step for this 9-1 state ranked unit, the win encompassed far more than just numbers in a box score. With fierce determination, the Leopards proved to everyone, and more importantly themselves, that adversity and defeat do not always go hand in hand ...
The McKinney Courier-Gazette quoted Jim Bob on Monday, November 15:
“It’s never good when you have to remove players from the team,” he said, “and obviously it’s even worse now because we are at playoff time.”

But Puckett’s concern goes beyond just the playing field.

“Football is just a game,” he said. “We want the boys who come through this program to learn about more than just football; it’s about being great young men and learning life lessons. And make no mistake, those three are still our brothers. Even good kids make bad decisions and this will be a life lesson for them.”
The McKinney newspaper asked Puckett to talk about the upcoming November 19 game against the Celina Bobcats and quoted him again:
“Our guys have been really upbeat over the last week and we had some good practices ... We told the guys that it is like losing players to injury and this will give some different guys a chance to step up.”
Puckett's team did step up and the Lovejoy Leopards beat the Celina Bobcats 17-0 last Friday night.

Living in Texas occasionally gets on my nerves. The politics here are somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun, and football is almost a religion. But, when they talk about "values," Texans are absolutely sincere. Imagine a high school coach who is able to say, "Football is just a game ... This will be a life lesson."

I salute Coach Puckett and the Lovejoy Leopards.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you and yours enjoyed many blessings today. I am so grateful for the people I love and the people who love me. I thank my readers for their support and wish all of you every blessing of this holiday season.


Anonymous said...

There is more to this story...

Anonymous said...

This man is no saint. He is the Jerry Jones of high school athletics. It's no wonder that the only sports he does not directly influence are the most successful at the school. Volleyball, Cross country being the best examples.