It was labeled as a night to honor the success of Waxahachie High School graduate and National Football League player Brian Waters, but Waters and Waxahachie ISD knew otherwise.

“Tonight is a little bit of disguise, tonight was supposed to be about me, but really it is about someone else,” Kansas City Chiefs’ Pro Bowl offensive lineman Brian Waters said.

“Every year, the players in the NFL nominate a teacher who had an impact on their life. The ‘young’ man that I am about to bring forth has been a very important person in my life,” he said. “The winner of the 2008 NFL Teacher of the Year award is Mr. George Solis.”

At that announcement, the crowd on hand at George W. Solis Gym in Waxahachie went wild Friday night as the long-time educator was named the NFL’s Teacher of the Year.

As the 2008 honoree, Solis will receive a $2,500 award and a $5,000 grant that will be presented to Waxahachie High School from the NFL. Solis also will travel to the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii, next month as NFL’s guest. There, Waters will officially present the award to Solis during a pre-game ceremony.

“I am speechless,” Solis said following the announcement. “Oh my goodness, never in my life could I have dreamed of something like this happening.”

Solis was in a state of shock following the announcement as family, friends and former students surrounded him. It was clear that the night, which had been set up under a pretense of honoring Waters, was a pleasant surprise for the former Spanish teacher.

Solis had attended the basketball game to honor Waters – and had no idea he in turn would be honored.

“I am so honored that he honored me with this surprise, it’s so unreal,” Solis said.

Solis, who taught Spanish for 31 years at WISD, has been an educator for 40 years and now serves as a popular substitute teacher.

Prior to his days as a teacher, Solis was a student at Waxahachie High, where he helped the Indians win a state title in basketball.

“Obviously, he has had a huge effect on the kids in the WISD,” WHS principal David Nix said. “The WISD board of trustees wanted to name the gym (on the Ninth Grade Academy) after a former educator in the WISD of outstanding character and someone that had the respect of his students and the community.”

Waters said, “We love him so much that we named a gym after him, so he’s been a really special guy not only in high school but in the community. He was a easy choice for me.”

Solis’ focus on accountability and community left a lasting impression with Waters, who works with Solis each summer to host athletic camps for youth in Waxahachie. 

As Waters put it, “When I eventually made it as an established professional athlete, [Solis] was one of the first to volunteer and help me give back to the youth of Waxaha-chie.”  

After their trip to Hawaii, both Waters and Solis will begin planning for this year’s youth camps, continuing the legacy of community service each has established in the community.

In his nomination essay, Waters wrote, “I had heard of George Solis before I took Spanish. I think everyone in Waxahachie has heard of him. He migrated from Mexico and split his time at Waxahachie High School in the classroom and in the cotton fields.

“Like most in this area of Texas, he needed to work in order to help his family make ends meet,” Waters wrote. “His unwavering support and confident candor has taught me and countless other Waxahachians about more than just the language of Spanish. He taught us to give our all and how to be successful. 

“Most importantly, he taught us how to accept the consequences of our actions,” the NFL Pro-Bowler wrote.

Following the ceremony, Waters and Solis answered questions and posed for photos in the busy foyer of the gymnasium.

“He tried to teach me Spanish,” Waters said. “I would have to say I was not a very good student, because I don’t know a lick of Spanish, but, he taught me a lot of different things about respecting myself and not letting life slip away.

“I remember, as a student, I loved to sleep in class and he would always tell me, ‘You can sit there in that chair and sleep your life away or you can wake up and live it.’ He has really made an impact on my life,” Waters said.

Through the NFL Teacher of the Year program, created in 1990, NFL players honor the teachers who had the greatest impact on their educational and life-skills development. Each year, a panel of educators and civic leaders select a teacher to be honored from a pool of NFL player nominations.

Panelists include Commissioner Roger Goodell; former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue; Congressman Gary Ackerman; Congressman Michael Honda; Antonia Cortese, American Federation of Teachers; Dr. LeRoy Walker, former USOC president; and Randall McDaniel, former NFL player and current teacher.

“WHS is very proud of Brian and his accomplishments. He is a tremendous role model for our youth. Our students and athletes understand that anything is possible with hard work, dedication, high goals and standards,” Nix said.

Solis said he was excited about the trip to Hawaii and cannot wait to make it.

“It’s an honor I’ll never forget,” Solis said. “It’s such a great honor that I did not expect. What a surprise. It’s been unreal for me.”

E-mail Chad at chad.wilson@wninews.com.