SEALY, TEXAS — I usually listen to podcasts and other audio-based content while driving, and I happened to finish the last stanza of this audiobook while driving back from delivering eCommerce products from my photography business. I happened to be nearby the ol’ alma mater of Title Town — Sealy, Texas — when I was wrapping up the audiobook version of All I Need to Know I Learned from My Texas High School Football Coach: A Handbook of Wisdom for Parents, Young People and Yes, Even Coaches!.

I’m a Sealy Tiger, and you can be too.*

  • Some exclusions may apply.

First, some clarity: I never actually played a single down for the Sealy Tiger football program. In fact, my time in a helmet and pads with Texas football simmers down to three 7th grade football games in rural Texas.

All I Need to Know I Learned from My Texas High School Football Coach: A Handbook of Wisdom for Parents, Young People and Yes, Even Coaches!, really gets into the nuts and bolts of the psychology that drives the Texas high school football community.

While in this context, “becoming a Sealy Tiger” is an euphemism for “becoming the best you can be.” But when speaking with the owner of an area newspaper printing press, we got onto the subject of the small towns in the area. Not knowing that I had worked elbow-to-elbow with many of his former journalists from a generation ago, he asked where I was from. I briefly explained where the family tree was from and for clarity, I explained that I ended up moving while in high school. I figured the alma mater would be out of his mind, but then he responded: “You’re a Sealy Tiger.

He knew there was something different about me and my ability to achieve what was once thought impossible, because I had been one of the moving pieces when sports history, at the time, was shattered.

I had just started listening to All I Need to Know I Learned from My Texas High School Football Coach: A Handbook of Wisdom for Parents, Young People and Yes, Even Coaches!, and it all started to become clear. The things I had achieved so far in life — when compared to the roughly seven billion people on Earth — are truly remarkable.

Much like the Cy-Fair Bobcats of 2017, being associated with that title team is something those kids will carry with them throughout college, and into their adult lives. While I would suggest that anything, once achieved, become a stepping stone for future success, getting one of these gold medals is a remarkable piece for any shadow box.

A Texas football state championship medal, particularly for the Class 3A victory stemming from Sealy, Texas, in 1997.
A Texas football state championship medal, particularly for the Class 3A victory stemming from Sealy, Texas, in 1997.

Upon listening to the words of coach Ken Purcell, via author Chris Doelle, voiced by Greg Taylor, the ideas and concepts that he preaches were eerily similar to the ethos that were spout by Sealy coaches back then: Emotion, pride, respect, attention, volume, connection, community.

However, in the Sealy of the mid- to late-1990s a bunch of it would be consolidated into a singular word: “Tigerball.” The closest word I’ve known to it is synergy. But there’s more to it. And it’s almost impossible to truly define, but you know it when you see it. Probably the best way I can describe it today is in saying that it takes an entire community, not just the team on the field, to generate it. And much like the unstable atoms of new elements that only last for a fraction of a second, you’ll only be able to catch a glimpse of it in its purest form.

Now, as discouraging as that may sound, it does exist in hundreds of places. I’ve witnessed it across our great state. Usually, but not always, at a football game.

What is Texas high school football in a word: Values.

As much as some outsiders like to think that high school coaches are worried only with driving their team to winning, just about every coach I’ve interviewed over my 21 year career in journalism preaches the same thing about what they’re doing: They’re in the business of molding their students into worthy adults.

While yes, knowing how to hold a football, hit a volleyball, or throw a baseball, generally won’t earn you a paycheck, the tenacity and discipline necessary to do these things at even a mediocre level will pay off in some form or facet down the road in one’s life.

Years later, I’d join the Army and that military branch’s seven core values coalesced with my Boy Scouts of America ethics and with the training I learned as a Sealy Tiger.

Akin to carrying the football, as a combat veteran, I will attest to the importance of maintaining constant possession of one’s weapon(s). Once during a field training exercise in basic combat training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, another soldier had walked away from his weapon and the battery commander was doing his rounds and found it laying in a fox hole. Quickly, that soldier was ordered to find and carry the most ridiculously large tree branch for the rest of the exercise before the commander would return it.

Within a year I was briefing a full bird colonel in charge of thousands of soldier, hundreds of artillery pieces — millions of dollars of gear — most of which could level a square kilometer. Flat.

The work ethic at that point in my life started with running roughly four miles every other day, with pushups, situps, and anything from FM 21-20 (now FM 7-22, Amazon link) thrown in between “rest” stops. The next day, we’d flip it and splice in running between the pushups, situps, etc.

Then I was in charge of barracks cleanup for my side of the building. Chow. Iron the old-school camouflage uniform, then hit the morning briefing with the old man.

Then I outpaced the production at all but the 20-man crew at 4th Infantry Division’s PAO shop. My boss had a good life and taught me tons about the military community.

Over the course of my five years of service, I noticed how many others had clueless looks on their faces when the commanders would make a football reference, such as: “We’re third and long, boys,” or “this operation is fourth and goal, team.”

To me, I instantly knew the importance of the situation. Having been in a prior briefing, I knew they was trying to relay information without giving up the classified information I had been privy to during the briefings, over the radios. The guys in the line units nowadays are recruited from the inner cities, oftentimes never seeing large fields of grass until boot camp, and a football reference will hopefully be instantly understandable. If not, they’d learn quick from the grizzled sergeants.

Finding the right socio-cultural ingredients

I found Tigerball by accident.

Divorces are a b—-, and I ended up moving towns and attending Sealy High School beginning my sophomore year of high school. I didn’t have a clue what a state championship was, much less the playoffs or what a district championship meant.

What I eventually learned to be Tigerball was everywhere I turned.

EVERYWHERE.

The entire city would disappear on Friday nights and fill the stands before kickoff at 7:30 p.m.

As time would tell, my graduating class would be the last Sealy team to win a state championship — so far! (Go Tigers!)

Twenty years after the fact, with my full circle perspective, I put together how much my fellow students had to give up to provide the winning conditions both on and off the field.

Those four years of consecutive titles were without question won by those guys on the field. But it takes a village to raise a child, and a community to raise champions. And we grew state titles like a well-tended garden.

All the other group competitions that were forsaken in order to shove that support to the green grass field in Sealy. As a journalist, it’s extremely hard to report on what didn’t happen. But those things were — not — there.

Those six weeks of the football playoff season always end the weekend before Christmas. Those six weeks run through all of November and through most of December. Compared to Cypress, it was a small population and when the majority of that population is in the Astrodome almost every Friday night, it kills the chances of other events having a shot at even pulling in a mediocre crowd. Putting 8,000 fans into a stadium might sound small to some people, but when you’re pulling half or more of that number from a town of just over 4,000 … last one out, turn off the lights.

Thus, it wasn’t just the boys in black and gold that sacrificed something. Everyone in every support role was amazing and gave their all.

I can’t imagine some of these things happening in Cypress, Katy, or Spring, nowadays. In those four years, band members gave up their Christmas concerts. They spent those extra playoff weeks doing marching band practice instead of focusing on their orchestral performance skills. The cheerleaders were too busy with actual cheer responsibilities to even consider practicing and attending the tumbling competitions. And basketball? Basketball didn’t exist in Sealy until January.

There were very few coaching changes and every coach on the Tiger staff had bought into the long-term plan. Tigerball had all the parts necessary to be activated on Friday nights.

Poise

There was one singular word that stood out to me, that Coach Purcell described in his and Chris Doelle’s book: Poise.

I was one of the bigger, taller boys in my class — at my old school. A far cry from the Hulk Hogan and Macho Man-sized upper classmen at Sealy. My experience with them was not what you might expect — they weren’t the burly bullies you see depicted in TV shows and Hollywood movies. At my old school, the guys playing football were the bullies and weren’t the ones pushing the upper limits of the school’s honor classes. At the old school, a 1-9 season was a good season.

These gentle giants in Sealy were young men of class. But I still hear stories of how they would trample opposing teams from the men, now mostly in their 40s, who were scheduled opposite of them in the 1990s.

Practice was something far different at Sealy: Organized, focused, the coaches were directly interested in pushing the players the right way.

I got knocked down. A lot. There was no way I could hold a candle to rest of the team. On the flip side, most of the friends I made in class and in town would sign up for the one journalism class the school offered. I chose to do the yearbook class my next two years of high school.

But those spring months had an irreplaceable effect on me. I learned how to fight, scratching and clawing my way through insurmountable odds. I also learned that with the right team, anything is possible on this rock we call Earth.

What does any of this have to do with All I Need to Know I Learned from My Texas High School Football Coach‘s audiobook?

Poise.

I had to scroll just a bit in Merriam-Webster’s definition, but this fits best: easy self-possessed assurance of manner : gracious tact in coping or handling.

Regardless of what you’re up against, you have to calm yourself and ready the cannons for when it’s your turn. The way the game is played is the perfect simulation for illustrating poise.

A lost fumble can send a recovering defensive squad back to the field. An interception can put your offense back into action.

I’ve found that an average play in football only runs eight seconds. Obviously, we’re not talking the ESPN highlight reels. This is the “trench warfare” of hard-nosed football. Most plays last just long enough to win a bull riding championship.

Full Circle

After fulfilling my contract with the Army, my wife and I really settled in for this thing us soldiers called, “the real world.”

Only a couple of months removed from Iraq and the military life, I found myself back on the sidelines for nearby newspapers, while the then brand new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill funded my way through the rest of my degree at the University of Houston.

Now that I’ve literally been there and done that, my perspective has changed. During my tenure, they figured that 10% of the military was Texas recruits. The remaining 90% was split amongst the remaining 49-ain’t-Texas-states.

The biggest push for freedom across the globe wasn’t NFL players — it was the hard nosed Texas high school football players and those who had it infused into their blood whether they realized it or not. Some were cheerleaders, band members, the drill team, or in my case: a hybrid athlete-journalist who was deadly with an M-4 carbine and drove tacks with a camera.

Back in the mid-1990s, my perspective was that of a high schooler trying to get his footing in a new town. But it wasn’t until one of my Army buddies from Michigan came down to visit before his next deployment that I really got an understanding of what is so special down here in the Lone Star State. Soldiers with combat tours don’t have a lot of free time and he honored my family and I by spending a week of his vacation with us at our new home in Cypress. That week I had an assignment down in Rosenberg covering one of the football teams. I told him that we’d go cover the game and have a nice meal afterward.

Why is Texas football different?

Despite having been around the world four times at this point, I hadn’t been to sporting competitions outside of Texas. Well, college basketball doesn’t count. Basketball isn’t a sport until January … or is it?

Easter morning at the House of Abraham in Ur? Check.

Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day? Check.

Go to a game in Oklahoma, Maryland, Arizona, Louisiana, Minnesota or California? Nope.

The number one thing that blew his mind wasn’t the game on the field. It was the pageantry. I had noticed his eyes wide open, full of surprise at what all comes with the Friday night lights.

“You don’t get a band or dancers until Division I football, back home,” he told me.

We have something special here. Ironically, you won’t know how amazing it is until you’re away from it and see the bleakness that exists outside of Texas sports.

 

(iOS screenshot) (iOS screenshot)

I’ve been sitting on the fence with Audible’s audiobooks for a long time, but when the opportunity to review the work of one of the greatest bards of Texas football came from Chris Doelle, I jumped at the chance.

As such, I was given a free copy of the audio book, All I Need to Know I Learned from My Texas High School Football Coach: A Handbook of Wisdom for Parents, Young People and Yes, Even Coaches!. But all aspects of this review are mine, and the author had no further input with this review.

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