In February of 1996 while I was the head football coach, girls track coach and athletic director at Comanche High School our coaching staff was waiting anxiously on the Monday morning of realignment by the UIL. That is probably the most anticipated Monday morning in all of sports in the state of Texas and it happens every two years. Anyhow when we got the call we found that we were headed east and one of those trips would be to a new district member called West High School.
About the only thing that I knew about West was that one of my old college and coaching buddies from DeLeon named Trent Thomas had coached there in the 1970’s under the tutelage of head coach B.J. Korenek. I knew that they had been pretty successful under the direction of B.J. and Trent. What I had really heard was that they had a tremendous weight program and that those kids could flat out hit. For that reason I was not just jumping for joy to get on the field with those guys.
As is the case in every new district, one of the member schools is named the temporary chairman. In this case it was West: Home of the Fighting Trojans. Our organizational meeting was to be held in this little community just off I-35 on the following Wednesday. My first assistant, Gary Speegle and I crawled in my truck and headed toward West. Neither one of us had ever been there or in that part of Texas. So it was like the blind leading the blind.
We made it to Meridian and Gary was reading the map. He had told me where to turn in Meridian but I missed the turn. As we continued straight ahead we came upon a gate of a barbed wire fence. We both broke out laughing because we knew we might have some difficulty, but we didn’t think we would have to open any gates to get there.
When we finally arrived for the district meeting we found some of the most gracious hosts ever in the schools there in West. And is the case with most of those district meetings, the host school will usually furnish coffee, soft drinks, and doughnuts. That morning however there was a different kind of pastry of which I had never seen or heard. One of the coaches from West invited me to try one of their world famous caliches. Immediately I fell in love; especially with those filled with cream cheese.
As the meeting got underway I listened and voted on different proposed guidelines while sitting at the refreshment table. When I spoke I usually had a mouth full of caliche or when I raised either hand I had one in both hands. Those things were unbelievable. From that point on whenever there was a contest of any kind in West that I was attending I never left town without a sack full of that glorious pastry. And truly no one does it better than West.
During the two years that I was coaching in the same district with West I realized that any time that a contest involved the Trojans or Lady Trojans that it would be no easy task. Those kids were so very competitive and played any game with the same amount of dignity. I always enjoyed going to West and being around their kids and coaches.
One of the things that I soon learned was that their signature sport was played on the diamond. The Trojan baseball team captured the state championship in 1999 and the Lady Trojans lost a hard fought heartbreaker to Paris North Lamar in 2010 by a 1-0 score in a game that lasted twelve innings. It was evident from the beginning that West, which played teams in the Waco area or the hotbed of Texas baseball and softball, took that game very serious. They were very good and very skilled in all sports but it was the diamond where their teams really excelled.
West High School also produced a World Series hero and former American League All-Star Scott Podsednik. In the 2005 series against the Houston Astros in game two, Podsednik went to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with score tied 6-6 and drove the ball over the right field fence for a walk-off home run that provided the Sox with a key victory in their drive to the World Championship. The home run was unexpected as Podsednik had not hit a round tripper in the regular season and only one against Boston in the ALDS.
It always says something about a community of around 3000 people when they can produce a state champion of any kind and especially when they can produce a professional athlete who not only performs on the biggest stage but stars on that stage as well. West, Texas has proven over and over that they are a close knit community that has high standards not only for themselves but for their student athletes and kids in general as well. They are all so very proud.
So on the tragic day of April 17, 2013 when the fertilizer plant was on fire it is no surprise that so many of the first responders who I am sure had suited up for the Trojans on many occasions ran toward the danger to do everything possible to eliminate any harm coming to their friends or family. Unfortunately the effort was too late to stop the indescribable blast that rocked the community and claimed too many lives. That will never erase the memory of the heroic efforts of the great folks in this community who lived by those standards where only the best is expected.
Here in the state of Texas we love our high school sports and the real reason that we love them is that we hold firm to the belief that playing competitive sports and learning to do it with class and dignity produces model citizens: citizens like those who call West, Texas home. We can forever be grateful that those who responded so bravely in the face of grave danger gave full credibility to that belief of which I just spoke.
In that 2005 World Series game a native son of West became an unlikely hero simply because he had grown up in a small Texas community where giving in to difficulty is not an option. He had been exposed to high standards by people who expected the same of themselves. He had a sense of belief that had been instilled in him by the people of West who are so very representative of the great resolve that is illustrated in communities just like them all across this state.
It is important that we grieve and cry with the wonderful people of this great little community. It is important that we help them uncover from the rubble and rise up again. It is important that we not only ask them to be strong in the aftermath of this fateful day but that we also become stronger on their behalf. But most of all it is important that we never forget them and forget this tragic day and most of all never ever forget those heroes who gave their life to try and save the lives of so many others.
West, Texas: We thank you for who you have been, who you are, and who you will continue to be. It is through your grit and determination that we will all become stronger.