WAXAHACHIE — As Ellis County prepares for a litany of Friday night football season openers, flood waters rise in and around the Bayou City.
Per WISD Superintendent Jeremy Glenn, the Waxahachie school district took one of a series of positive steps before Friday's Indian-Patriot football game at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium.
"WISD will give free admission to Friday's football game for donations to hurricane relief — bath and cleaning supplies, diapers, water, etc.," he stated in a Wednesday Twitter post.
The donations taken will support those suffering devastation along the Gulf Coast will be only one of the efforts made to help the Houston area weather the aftermath of Tropical Depression Harvey. It was downgraded from its original designation as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 31.
Despite its weakening and categorical change, the cyclone has left all of Port Arthur underwater, more than 40,000 homes destroyed in Houston, Beaumont — a population of 118,000 — with no running water after both of its water pumps failed, and a reported 31 dead throughout the region.
"We're blessed to have a lot of people in our district that have big hearts. One thing we noticed was everybody had already been coordinating efforts separately," Glenn said. "What we wanted to do was to bring everyone together in a spirit of cooperation and organize the efforts as one."
WISD's athletics and fine arts programs, service and civic clubs, and area elementary schools were some of the entities that partnered with the United Way of West Ellis County and the Salvation Army of Ellis County to make sure the supplies gathered get to their destinations.
Some teams were raising money while others had collected supplies but didn't know where to take them. With the help of Glenn, Athletic Director Greg Reed, and countless others, WISD found a location at one of the most easily identified venues in the city — Lumpkins Stadium.
Reed spoke about the many hands Surging to provide relief, noting the difficulty of giving an approximate number of fielded calls or donated items.
"They are vast. The good thing about it is that my place in all of this is limited because we have so many great administrators, coaches, and teachers that took it on themselves to help. It's kind of hard to tell you how many groups I fear I might leave one out. We are at a point where there's either those that have helped, are in the process of helping, or planning to help. It was coaches — probably prodded by student-athletes asking, 'What can we do?' — that saw a need and wanted to fill it."
According to Glenn, the donation effort will be extended to fans of both teams.
"There will be a large semitrailer in front of Lumpkins on the home side and a smaller truck on the away side for Garland fans," he said. "We're working to have Salvation Army buckets and bell ringers available for anyone that wants to make monetary donations. Students will be leading the efforts."
WISD, though, wasn't the only one diving feet first of the deep end of aid.
According to Casey Ballard, the executive director of United Way of West Ellis County, Midlothian ISD has made a $10,000 goal to help those in the Gulf Coast region.
Ferris and Midlothian Heritage High Schools will also collect Red Cross donations at the gates of Yellowjacket and MISD Multi-Purpose Stadiums during games against respective Bonham and Sunnyvale High School opponents.
Though the supplies and clothing could be vital after the waters recede, Ballard said they are urging all donators to give money and donate gift cards in lieu of shirts, socks, shoes, and toiletries.
"We have had such a generous outpouring from places throughout the country," she said. "The Red Cross and Salvation Army have stopped accepting donations because they don't have a place to store them all. Those that want to donate can bring gift cards. It doesn't matter where they come from — Walmart, H-E-B or some place else — so people can buy their own stock, their own underwear and recover from the devastation."
The Indians, when they storm on to the field Friday, will have an added piece of hardware. It will sit beside the red-tinted feathers that adorn players' helmets.
The "Houston Strong" sticker — designed by an unnamed ISD middle school teacher — will be worn by every Waxahachie player in support of the Houston area affected. Glenn said the idea for the sticker originated from Waxahachie Head Football Coach Jon Kitna.
MISD Athletic Director Steve Keasler said cheerleaders will be on hand at the games to collect donations that will be sent to the American Red Cross. He noted it's a Texas tradition to help, no matter the circumstance.
"That's terrible stuff that's happening to people down there in Houston," he continued. "Anybody that comes to the gate is welcome to give as much as they can. My sister and parents all live down there and Joey Foster's parents live there and they were underwater. I'm sure we have quite a few [in the district]. We felt like [providing aid] was the right thing to do because that's what Texans do."
Some of those affected, as in the case of Foster, the Midlothian Head cross country and track and field coach, Waxahachie assistant coach Kevin Pierson and others on various ISD staffs, have direct ties to Ellis County.
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.