Building the game: The unsung heroes

Staff Writer
Runnels County Register
Miles Cheerleaders: Left to right: Hana Kohutek (freshman) is the mascot, then it's Carly Taubert (Soph), Katy McCleery (Soph), Kameryn Schwertner (Soph), Alexa Schwertner (senior), Whitney Halfmann (junior), Kayla Havlak (freshman), Heidi Kalina (junior), Saige Boatright (soph), Kinsley Riddle (senior), Olivia Schwertner (Soph).

Regardless of the sporting event, a significant amount of work, behind and in front of the scenes, goes on to ensure a fair, safe and entertaining game that all of the fans, from home and abroad, can enjoy. There are scores of unsung heroes that work before, during and after sporting events to ensure that everyone enjoys a safe, exciting time.

The school districts and UIL ensure that the schedules are set, that the facilities are up to standard, that the tickets salespeople are in place, that the officials from TASO are scheduled, that ambulances are on standby during football and that the staff is all on the same page.

Perhaps the ticket salespeople are the most underappreciated, after the officials. Ticket sales folks typically man the gate or the door for 2 hours or more. They relieve each other from time to time but once the fans are in the gate, they don’t think about the person that sold them the ticket. The ticket person can usually hear the game, via the announcer, but doesn’t always get to see the action. This year their job is more crucial than ever. Stadiums and courts are limited to 50% capacity, so the ticket people have to keep an accurate count of just how many tickets are sold so that they don’t go above the 50% mandate. They’re accountable for the money taken in and the number of tickets sold.

Some of the people who do the work are right in front of us, but aren’t always noticed. Think about the managers and others who run water out to football players during time outs. Typically, Ballinger, Winters, Miles and Olfen will have 5 or 6 students handling the job. Doing this work requires the kids to work autonomously, doing what they know that they need to do, not waiting for someone to tell them, “Get out there with that water.” Watch the sideline at the next game. The managers will be standing there on the sidelines by the players, watching the field like a hawk, looking for the next opportunity to hydrate the players. This might seem minor to some, but it’s a crucial step in the level of play on the field. Players on the gridiron don’t play well if they aren’t hydrated in this Texas heat. It’s a critical role to be sure, helping to keep the players from suffering the effects of heat and doing all that they can to keep the players ready for the next play.

The equipment managers work hard behind the scene to ensure that all of the equipment is safe and in proper working order. You don’t want a player to wear a helmet that isn’t fully functional, providing all of the help possible to avoid potential injury to the player. The equipment managers will pull defective helmets out and get the players a different helmet. They’ll check shoulder pads and other equipment before, during and after football games. Many of the ball boys are on the equipment managing team. They keep the flow of the game going by standing to the sidelines, ready to throw in a new ball to the officials when asked. The equipment managers keep the coaches apprised of any issues. They’re job contributes greatly to player safety and once again, they’re usually students, working is the most professional manner.

Remember, also, that many of the managers play other sports and show their support by managing games that they aren’t playing in. Look at some of the managers taking water out onto a football field during timeout. Many of them are girls and boys who play volleyball, basketball, run track, etc. They aren’t playing in the game, but they’re contributing just the same, forming an integral part of the success of players staying healthy on the field and on the court.

You’ll see a cheerleader at a JV basketball or volleyball game, then when the varsity game begins, that cheerleader is on the court, playing for all that she’s worth. You’ll see a player from that JV game carrying the water bottles during the varsity game. Teamwork goes hand-in-hand with the other duties needed to ensure a successful sporting event.

Cheerleaders are acrobatic and practice as hard as anyone. They work on their cheers and keep the fans involved. The next time those little plastic footballs are thrown into the stands, remember the cheerleader that threw them and maybe cheer on the cheerleaders and show them your appreciation. Their job is just as physical as any and they’re athletes, through and through. Some of them compete in some sports and cheer at others.

Don’t forget the mascot! Wearing a hot costume in blistering heat isn’t an easy thing to do! It’s like being in an oven that’s in an oven as they help keep the fans in the game.

The trainers also play a crucial role in helping to safeguard the health of the athletes, regardless of the sport. If a player goes down, the first people there are usually the coach and the trainer, without fail. Trainers don’t just check on the players when they go down on the field of play. Many times a trainer might see a player limping while playing or coming off trying to hide an injury so that they aren’t removed from the game. The eyes of the trainers don’t miss anything.

Football players will usually play with injuries throughout the season, typically ankle or arm injuries. The trainers check on these players throughout the week, before games and after games. They are the health quality-control. They’re the ones that ensure players ice injuries, that players are pulled out of a game if they’re hurt more than they’re letting on and the ones who ensure that everyone is taped and prepared to take the field, track or court.

Perhaps, the least appreciated, are the officials, “Hey, Blue!” Yes, those men and women from TASO (Texas Association of Sports Officials). In Ballinger and Miles the officials are out of the San Angelo chapter, headed up by Dr. Bradley Petty and Dan Robertson at Angelo State University.

In Winters the officials come out of Abilene. Petty and Robertson, like most of the officials in the chapter, have “day jobs.” They both work at Angelo State University. Dr. Petty is the Executive Director of Student Affairs and Robertson is Director of University Recreation. It takes a lot to become a football official. It’s not just a haphazard selection process. When someone applies to TASO to become a referee they have to register with UIL. Then they go through a background check. After the background check is completed, if the individual is involved in anything more serious than a traffic ticket, they have 24 hours to report it. There are weekly meetings for officials but there are also specific meetings for new officials. “Fundamentals are the key. You want a good flow to the game,” Robertson says.

It’s not just the school that is carrying the load when it comes to the responsibility for events. Parents play an essential role behind the scenes. They pack lunches for players and band members on road games. Take them to and from practices. Wait for them until the early hours of the morning to get back from road games. They man the souvenir stand and concessions stand. They’re all volunteers. The money goes to support the school’s athletic programs overall, not just football. A kid is out on the field or on the court and mom is off behind the counter serving hotdogs, nachos, pizza, etc., or selling t-shirts, caps and all manners of merchandise. Like the ticket sales people, they only get to hear part of the game. It’s no small sacrifice for mom or dad to be in the stadium or gymnasium but not getting to see their son or daughter playing.

The responsibilities don’t end when the game is over. Volunteers and custodians clean the court and stadium, ensuring that all is ready for the next game. In Miles, you’ll see former high school principal and current Dean of Students, Jamie Rouse, singing the national anthem or pushing a dust mop on the court between volleyball games and at halftime in basketball games. Everyone pitches in. Go to a Ballinger game and you’ll see the principals and superintendent Jeff Butts at the game. In Miles, superintendent Clint Askins and principal Lela Taubert on the sidelines before kickoff. It’s the same in Winters and Miles, with the principals and superintendents supporting every game.

The respective booster clubs hold fundraisers that support the players. These require time and money, much of the money coming from local businesses. If it wasn’t for the work of the boosters and the generosity of the fans and local businesses, the games would look a lot different. The boosters ensure, through their own generosity and fundraisers, that the kids have the best of everything. Look at the sponsor’s businesses on the programs, the scoreboard, on the signs around the field, on the cards that the boosters give out in appreciation. Then, the next time you’re shopping for something, remember those businesses who give generously to the various programs and maybe visit their shop or store.

The bands ensure that the sporting event is lively. They play the school fight song and keep the audience entertained throughout the game, many marching on the field at halftime. Many of the band members are athletes so it’s not uncommon to see a football player out there at halftime, wearing a sweaty t-shirt with grass-stained football pants and cleats, performing in the show. The students and respective band directors put a lot of time and energy into rehearsals and only put a top quality product out there for the fans to enjoy. The time the marching band spends practicing and rehearsing, in the Texas heat, can never be fully appreciated unless you experience it yourself. The job of a director, bringing 50 or more instruments together in harmony, while practicing marching is daunting.

Perhaps one of the most under-recognized groups are the assistant coaches. It’s the assistant coaches who help coordinate practice. Someone has to work with the defensive backs while the head coach is working with the linemen or working with a quarterback while the other coaches are working with defenses or running backs. At a practice in 2018, coach Lipsey walked from the end zone to midfield with a player, teaching him how to pitch the ball on an option play as they walked. Lipsey’s assistant coaches were working other players out on drills. Winters head coach and athletic director, Matt McCarty, took time with quarterback Alex Salas in 2019, his first year starting after quarterback Javon Young graduated. Winters assistant coaches had the players hitting the tackling dummies and sleds. It takes a successful team of coaches to have successful practices and thus have successful games. The head coaches know the importance of selecting a good staff that can communicate with the players and get their best out of them.

There are also the scorekeepers, announcers, film crew and radio hosts who ensure the fans get the full experience and that each player receives his or her due credit. You might know the announcers voice, by many may not know his or her face. In Ballinger, Lynn Smith has been calling play-by-play basketball and football games for KRUN radio for 38 years. He is just as much a fixture in Ballinger sports as anyone. Smith receives a great amount of appreciation and respect from former and current coaches, as well as the community. Lynn’s broadcasting partner, Brad Brevard, sits beside Smith and gives insight and analysis about the game.

The film crews for the team are usually in the press boxes, filming all aspects of the game for the coaches to review later. They have to know what each coach wants and provides it.The scoreboard operators ensure that accurate information is displayed. The press box is full of students and adults doing their absolute best to make the game exciting and enjoyable.

Last but not least, is the community itself. The parents, the business owners, the band, the cheerleaders, the athletes playing their respective games, as well as the various support staff and crew all do their part. They support their school programs and create the atmosphere in the stadium, gymnasium and track. They travel and support the team on the road, as well as at home. The people in the community pay their hard-earned money for tickets, concessions, souvenirs and fundraisers to show their support for the programs.

Every aspect of an event is vital. The next time you’re at a sporting event, look at the people not wearing a uniform, who are performing those vital functions. The managers, parents, staff, ticket salespeople, merchandise stand crew, concessions crew, among others. Take a look up at the press box or at the scorer’s table to see the adults and students working to do their part; the trainers ensuring your kid’s health is #1; the officials who officiate the game to help ensure it’s played fairly while watching out for layer safety; the custodians and volunteers coming in after the game to clean the gymnasium or stadium as you’re walking out; The managers ensuring that your kids stay hydrated; the equipment managers checking player equipment and making repairs; The chain gang on the sidelines; the band playing in the stands or marching on the field; the cheerleaders who practice to keep your attention and lead the excitement.

Take a moment to thank those that work behind the scenes, on and off the field or court, and, most importantly, to appreciate them.

Editor’s note: There are several more photos online than will be in the newspaper, due to limited print space.

Some of your behind the scenes people: Ballinger:

Lynn Smith, Brad Brevard on the radio. Head coach and athletic director Chuck Lipsey. Assistant Coaches: Terry Bean, Bryan Gayoso, Jeff Holland, Matt McBrayer, Mike Nunez, Isaiah Regeon, Greg Vaughn, Alan Wilson, Marvin Wilson; Graduate Assistant: Xavier Nunez; Trainer: Vance Gohlke; Principal: Ryan Knickerbocker; Superintendent: Jeff Butts; Cheer Sponsor: Roxan Bowman; Cheerleaders: Emily West, Kaylee Conrad, Trista Cortez, Camryn Dankworth, Dillon Halfmann, Avery Knickerbocker, Chelsea Martinez, Jersey Perkins; Managers: Daniella Luna, Christy Zhuang, Skyla Hostetter, Brianna Herrera, Tristen Hoelscher, Kendall Smith, Piper McBrayer, Chrystian Salee; High School band director: Janet Wilson.

Winters: Superinendent: Sean Leamon; Principal: Bryan Green; AD/HFB: Matt McCarty; Coaches: Chad Tutle ,Bryan Green, Colton Holmes, Derek Dallas, Joseph Schumpert, Brandon Postell Garrett Nitsch, Chase Ellis, Jarryd Thomas; Managers: Laken Green, Mara Mostad, Saleen Jalomo, Hailey Horton, Mason Crowe; Band Directors: Phil Mooney and Karen Mooney; Cheer Sponsor: Tami Richards; Cheerleaders: Querstin Lara, McKenzie Ventress, Ashlyn Richards, Kacie Lindley, Morgan Yanez Abanea Cortez, Kate Zachary, Serenity Luera, Raven Collins, Mikaela Aguero; Mascot: McCaelyn Beuschel

Miles: Managers: Head Coach/ AD: Jayson Wilhelm; Managers: Austin McFarland, Austin Larson, Colton Kelly, Jaylen Torres, Kaleton Miller and Reid Petrey; Assistants: David Buitron, Jesse Rodriguez and Clayton Garmon; Principal: Lela Taubert; Superintendent: Clint Askins. Band director: Jason Yarbrough; Cheerleades: Hana Kohutek (freshman) is the mascot, Carly Taubert (Soph), Katy McCleery (Soph), Kameryn Schwertner (Soph), Alexa Schwertner (senior), Whitney Halfmann (junior), Kayla Havlak (freshman), Heidi Kalina (junior), Saige Boatright (soph), Kinsley Riddle (senior), Olivia Schwertner (Soph).

The Ballinger Bearcats varsity cheerleaders:  Front Row: Dillon Halfmann, Kaylee Conrad; Middle Row: Trista Cortez, Camryn Dankworth; Back Row: Avery Knickerbocker, Jersey Perkins, Chelsea Martinez, Emily West