The tiny northwest Texas school district in Harrold is known for its independent streak — it was the first to allow teachers to carry concealed handguns and also the first to challenge a federal transgender bathroom policy.
The Vernon Daily Record reports that independence has carried over to sports as the district prepares to field a coed high school football team.
Until Monday morning (Aug. 8), the 2016 edition of the Harrold High School Hornets had just five players out for football — one shy of the minimum required to field a team. The Hornets compete in Class A, six-man football, the smallest football classification in Texas.
Head coach Craig Templeton had suffered from a series of transfers and a general disinterest in playing by a few students he had expected to fill roster spots this season. And to make matters worse, of the 30 high school students currently enrolled at Harrold, only eight are boys.
The long-time HHS athletic director, principal and coach has had to contend with low numbers the past two seasons, but only five players meant he would likely have to forfeit the upcoming campaign. But, just when the Hornets thought they might not even make it out of two-a-days with a squad, in stepped junior Olivia Perez.
The 5-foot-4-inch, 115-pound stalwart on the Lady Hornets’ volleyball team saw what was happening to Templeton and her male classmates, so she decided she wanted to help.
“Olivia came to me on Friday about potentially playing for us this year to make sure we had six players. I wasn’t so high on the idea at first, and I wanted to make sure everything was OK on her end, so I told her to take the weekend and think about it,” Templeton said.
When Monday morning came, Perez was still solid on her decision. Templeton tentatively agreed to ease into the situation, and as of now, she is a member of the Harrold Hornets. Even though HHS now has the legal number of roster players to begin a six-man game, the fate of the season is still very much in jeopardy.
“I would say right now, this is not even a day-by-day situation, it’s more like an hour-by-hour thing going on,” Templeton joked on Wednesday. “My main priority right now is to protect Olivia. She came out to workouts with us on Monday, but she had a volleyball game on Tuesday, so she hasn’t had a lot of reps with us. I don’t know if this will work or not, but her reasoning is so selfless, and the five boys I have are working their tails off, so I think the least I can do is give this a shot.”
Besides just trying to help her school field a team, Perez had another idea in mind when she decided to don the pads and cleats. Harrold’s lone senior, Brady Blakely, is a talented player who garnered first team all-district honors as a defensive lineman last season. Perez simply didn’t want her friend to not have the chance to play in his final year at Harrold.
Blakely lost his father to cancer last November on the night before Harrold played rival Chillicothe. The Eagles paid tribute to him by wearing the Hornets’ purple colors and with both teams joining in a prayer led by Templeton and Chillicothe’s coach Clint Miller.
Perez knew how important Blakely’s senior year meant to not only him as a player, but as a way to honor his father for one last season.
“When they told me they didn’t have enough for a team, I stuck my head out and told coach Templeton that I wanted to play. I want to play for Brady, because I know his dad would’ve wanted him to be on the field for his senior year. I didn’t want him to have to go out like that in his last year in school. We grew pretty close last year, and I just want to do what I can to help,” Perez said.
“I talked it over with my mom, and she was OK with the idea, especially since I was doing it for Brady. She has some concerns, but she thinks I’ll be fine. She knows I’m tough,” she continued. “I’m familiar with the six-man game because I’ve been the team’s manager before, and I like football in general. I’ve also grown up rough housing with my brother and my older cousin. They never treated me like a girl. I think I can handle some contact and come out all right.”
Perez’s reasoning for her decision certainly hasn’t been lost on Templeton or on Blakely. Both truly admire the courage the junior Lady Hornet has shown.
“That’s really one of the most selfless things I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve been coaching a long time,” Templeton said. “I told our boys, ‘That’s what you call being a true teammate. Making a sacrifice like that for a cause that’s much greater than you.’ I really have a lot of respect for Olivia’s courage. She really wants Brady to have a senior year, and she just flat out told me, ‘Coach.this isn’t right what’s happening. I want to help if I can.’ Like I said, I don’t know if this will work, but with that kind of attitude, we’re going to try.”
Blakely’s voice cracked slightly as he talked about what Perez has decided to do, especially as it pertains to the relationship with his father. With several of his male classmates deciding not to play football this year, the talented senior was overwhelmed that his female buddy might help salvage the season.
“I was counting on a couple of guys to come out this year that didn’t, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m very grateful to Olivia for at least giving us an opportunity to play football,” Blakely said. “If this works out, I think the team chemistry will be great. Everyone gets along, and that hasn’t been the case in all of my seasons. Even though there are only six of us, there is definitely a family atmosphere.”