In Uvalde, a football match offers celebration amid grief

UVALDE — Jonathan Jimenez spun to his left, then backed up to his right, and in that moment he wasn’t crying.

Not consciously, anyway.

As he pumped his legs, he wasn’t thinking of his best friend, Chance Luevanos. Picking up speed on the pitch, he didn’t think of Luevanos’ little brother, Jayce, the adorable 10-year-old boy who had dressed up as Spiderman for Halloween and was making a cup of coffee for his grandparents every mornings.

When Jimenez made a final turn and raced to the sideline, he heard the crowd at the Honey Bowl roar, getting louder and louder, but as he ran he didn’t consider what so many of these people had lost.

He also did not consider the gift he was giving them.

“I didn’t really think about anything,” Jimenez said. “I was just running.”

It is perhaps this simplicity that has put a city on its feet. About 5,000 fans packed the Honey Bowl Friday night, not just to watch Uvalde High School’s first home football game since 21 lives were lost in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary, but to be together and celebrate at the instead of crying.

To applaud instead of crying.

Worrying about something insignificant and letting it feel like the most important thing in the world.

Uvalde senior linebacker Justyn Rendon, wearing jersey number 21 in honor of the 21 victims of the mass shooting at nearby Robb Elementary School, waves to fans after defeating Eagle Pass Winn, 34-28 at the Honey Bowl Stadium in Uvalde on Friday evening September 2, 2022 It was the team’s first home game since the tragedy.

Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer

Before kick-off, a 21-second moment of silence was followed by a prayer from Oscar Mireles, who 50 years earlier had starred in a Uvalde side that won a state championship and helped unite a city fractured by a school walkout. .

As part of her invocation, Mireles said the people there “humbly ask for the recovery of our entire community.” A retired Border Patrol officer, Mireles said he understands a football game won’t solve everything or anything.

But later, when he spoke of seeing the families of the victims in the crowd that watched the hometown Coyotes pull off a dramatic 34-28 victory over Eagle Pass Winn with the help of Jimenez’s wild run, Mireles managed a smile as her eyes filled.

“Maybe what happened here was just a little help,” Mireles said. “It puts something in their minds that is not a tragedy. I think they enjoyed it. They needed it. »

How the stages begin

Foreigners may tend to overestimate the significance of nights like Friday. Over the past three months, residents of Uvalde have become accustomed to TV trucks, cameras and reporters on almost every street corner, and residents can spot dramatic license when they see it.

But no, Friday’s importance was not overstated, insisted countless people wearing maroon “UVALDE STRONG” t-shirts, from the afternoon pep rally at the high school gymnasium to the festivities of pre-game at the Honey Bowl to the tearful family hugs outside the locker room in the dark under the water tower.

“Many Monday and Tuesday nights are taken up with board meetings,” said recall club president Brooke Carnes, mother of Coyotes starting quarterback Brodie Carnes. “These nights are reflexive, where we try to work things out. But the town needed a Friday night like this. It’s a night where we can step back and celebrate.

“It was pretty tough at first. But you just put one foot in front of the other.

And that’s how the steps begin.

A child holds a sign commemorating the 21 students and teachers who died at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24, before the Uvalde High School Coyotes game at Honey Bowl Stadium on Friday night Sept. 2, 2022. Uvalde a won the game.  Eagle passes Winn, 34-28.  The match was the first at home since the tragedy.

A child holds a sign commemorating the 21 students and teachers who died at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24, before the Uvalde High School Coyotes game at Honey Bowl Stadium on Friday night Sept. 2, 2022. Uvalde a won the game. Eagle passes Winn, 34-28. The match was the first at home since the tragedy.

Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer

They start with Ruben Ruiz deciding to sit in the stands and watch the Coyotes again. The officer’s wife, Eva Mireles was one of the teachers killed at Robb. Twenty-five years ago, he was a classmate at Uvalde of Roland Ramirez, who is now an athletic trainer for the NFL’s Houston Texans.

More than a number: Coyotes honor Uvalde victims with #21 jersey

Ramirez’s connection to the tragedy was one of the reasons the Texans sent a contingent including head coach Lovie Smith to speak to the Coyotes this week, and why the Texans donated new uniforms and invited players to join them in Houston for a game.

When Ramirez learned that his old friend had decided to attend Friday’s Coyotes game, he was thrilled.

“It’s been a tough road for him,” Ramirez said of Ruiz. “Not being inside and in your house, being here with the community is therapeutic, no doubt.”

The community hopes so, at least. He hopes that somewhere in the crowd that erupted with what must have been the loudest sound in the Honey Bowl’s 75-year history as the final seconds expired Friday night, there were family members of the victims who found joy and relief, however temporary.

The Uvalde Coyotes embrace in the locker room as they prepare to face the Eagle Pass Winn Mavericks at Honey Bowl Stadium in Uvalde, Texas on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. The Coyotes defeated the Mavericks 34-28 in their first home game of the season.

The Uvalde Coyotes embrace in the locker room as they prepare to face the Eagle Pass Winn Mavericks at Honey Bowl Stadium in Uvalde, Texas on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. The Coyotes defeated the Mavericks 34-28 in their first home game of the season.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer Sam Owens

This is what Brook Lopez wanted for his family. His nephew, Xavier James Lopez, 10, was one of Robb’s victims. His brother and sister-in-law, Xavier’s parents, have spent most of their waking hours this summer lobbying for legislation that would raise the minimum age to buy assault rifles in Texas from 18 to 21. year.

But on Friday, they came to the Honey Bowl to see Brook Lopez’s son, Roy, perform.

“He’s their nephew,” Brook Lopez said. “And their son loved the Coyotes.”

“You have to have hope”

Linda Cruz Alcorta remembers the day in 1970 when, in the first year of secondary school in Uvalde, several of her closest friends left the building. After a popular Hispanic teacher failed to get his contract renewed, hundreds of students took part in an organized strike, which lasted six weeks.

“It was very, very hard, for a long time,” Alcorta said. “The city was divided.

Two years later, however, the Coyotes started winning, and they haven’t stopped. With Alcorta urging them on as a cheerleader on the sidelines, they won 15 games in a row en route to the Class 3A state championship. Somewhere in the middle of this race, Alcorta noticed that “everyone in Uvalde got together”.

“It was a magical moment,” she said.

She eventually left Uvalde to become an elementary school teacher at Northside in San Antonio, but those memories of the early 1970s were part of the reason she was so happy to join the 50th anniversary ceremonies at the Honey Bowl on Friday night.

“Uvalde is such a wonderful place,” Alcorta said. “I think it’s important to remember the happiness of the past and look to the future.

“Because there is still hope. You have to have hope. »

On the court Friday night, no one exemplified that spirit better than Jimenez, the short-and-quick slot catcher who, in one electrifying stroke, gave thousands a memory they’ll never forget. never.

Armando Luna (65) and his Uvalde High school teammates celebrate by beating Eagle Pass Winn, 34-28, in their first home game since May 24, when 21 students and teachers were gunned down at Robb Elementary School of Uvalde.

Armando Luna (65) and his Uvalde High school teammates celebrate by beating Eagle Pass Winn, 34-28, in their first home game since May 24, when 21 students and teachers were gunned down at Robb Elementary School of Uvalde.

Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer

With 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 28-28. Uvalde had the ball at 42, and coach Wade Miller was content to settle for extra time. So he called a play in which Jimenez was supposed to take a stint and pick up a few yards before going out of bounds.

But when Jimenez – whose best friend had lost his baby brother in the shooting – approached the left sideline and saw Winn’s entire defense waiting for him, he improvised. He turned once, then reversed his course across the field to the right.

A murmur in the stands turned into a gasp, then into deafening chaos.

“Next thing you know,” Miller said with a laugh, “the little fart runs down the sideline.”

Jimenez gained 51 yards with his mad rush, putting the Coyotes just six yards from the end zone. And on the next play, Brodie Carnes threw a perfect pass to Devon Franklin for the game-winning touchdown.

Jimenez later said “everything was fair to them”, referring to the families of Robb’s victims. Immediately after his run, however, as he sat on the bench trying to catch his breath, a teammate named Jeyden Gonzales wanted to know something.

” How did you do ? Gonzales asked.

Tired Uvalde senior Jayden Gonzalez cools off after his team scored the touchdown to defeat Eagle Pass Winn, 34-28, at Honey Bowl Stadium on Friday night Sept. 2, 2022, just over three months after 21 students and teachers were gunned down at Robb Primary School in Uvalde.  The game was the team's first home game of the season.

Tired Uvalde senior Jayden Gonzalez cools off after his team scored the touchdown to defeat Eagle Pass Winn, 34-28, at Honey Bowl Stadium on Friday night Sept. 2, 2022, just over three months after 21 students and teachers were gunned down at Robb Primary School in Uvalde. The game was the team’s first home game of the season.

Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer

Exhausted, Jimenez offered no explanation. But behind him, in the stands, a city knew the answer.

He put one foot in front of the other.

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