A Family Affair: Waskom Makes History
ARLINGTON -- AT&T Stadium's 60-yard-long screen showed a Waskom fan with a sign during the first half of the Wildcats' 41-22 win over Newton in the Class 3A Division II state championship on Thursday.
On it were six words: "One team. One family. One goal."
You heard the word "family" at least a dozen times in Waskom's postgame press conference.
A lot of teams have the player's last name or the mascot on the back of their jerseys above the numbers. Waskom's jerseys say "family."
"It's there for a reason," Waskom coach Whitney Keeling said after his team won a state title on its first trip to the big show. "Words can't describe the emotions I have right now."
Fans numbering more than five times the population of Waskom watched the Wildcats make history on Thursday. They saw a team two years removed from having to forfeit every win for an ineligible player; a year removed from being eliminated one game before the championship; and one week removed from an incredible second-half rally and goal-line stand to reach the title game.
The Wildcats did it all together. As a family.
"These guys mean more to me than anything. I love each and every one of them," Keeling said. "The emotional bond we have as a football team is incredible."
Before 2013 you'd be hard-pressed to find much of anything about the Waskom football program. The Wildcats' last playoff appearance prior to 2013 was 1992, also the last time Waskom had double-digit wins before last season.
But even in a year where every win was forfeited, Keeling knew he had something special. This was a team that had grown up together, competed together, and some even lived together.
"I treat these kids like they're my own," Keeling said. "They have a resilience about them."
Cousins Junebug and Kevin Johnson have known each other their entire lives, and lived together for most of it. Their mothers are half-sisters, and the two 18-year-olds are just four months apart.
"Even at home we've always competed against each other," Kevin said. "Outside racing against each other or anything else, we've always competed. When we were little he beat me at everything, and now I win a lot. We've all always been a family."
Waskom came into the season ranked fourth in the Associated Press and first in the Texas Football preseason polls. In November ESPN published a story highlighting Texas high school football towns along Interstate 20, and Waskom was the first stop.
Waskom became a team and a town finally noticed, but even after the day comes where most have forgotten about this tiny East Texas town, the Wildcats have already sealed their fate as state champions with their family on the field and in the stands.
And they'll stay that way. Together, as a family. Forever.
"I know it says family on our jerseys, but we're all a family as a community," Kevin said. "It's amazing."