By Sarah Naron

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – The Grapeland Sandies football team was recognized as the 2A DII Region III Area Champions during the Grapeland Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Dec. 18.

“We’re extremely proud of what they accomplished this year,” said GISD Superintendent Don Jackson. “Really, one of my proudest moments was that Evadale game. Our kids worked really, really hard against a tough, big opponent. We came out on top, and we moved on past Cumbie.”

Jackson pointed out that although the team lost in the third round of the playoffs to Timpson, the effort put in by the players and coaches throughout the season is something to be proud of.

“I live right here by the school, and I see the time that they put in on Saturdays and Sundays to prepare our kids,” he said of the coaches. “Our kids just didn’t show up and were able to win. They were prepared to win.”

Jackson then turned the floor over to GISD Athletic Director Wayne Mahaffey, the team’s head coach.

“It’s been a while since we played three rounds deep and won two playoff games. We just wanted to express how proud we are of these guys for the time and effort,” Coach Mahaffey began.

“You know, it’s a long time from Aug. 1 ’til Dec. 1,” he pointed out. “That’s a lot of time and effort. But that’s not really where it started. It really started in January, or November of last year, because we didn’t play as long.”

Coach Mahaffey told the board of the effort put in by the members of the football team throughout the spring as they worked to get “stronger, faster and bigger” in the weight room.

“We carried over into the fall, and after the Buffalo game, we were kind of – as a coaching staff – kind of questioning, ‘Well, I don’t know what kind of year this is going to be,’” he divulged. “It didn’t look too good after Buffalo. But as a credit to these guys, they buckled down. They fought through adversity several times.”

Coach Mahaffey cited the game against Evadale as a “perfect example” of the team’s determination, recalling how they were “down 14 in the first half and come back and tie it, and then down 14 in the second half.

“It would have been real easy, and maybe sometimes, in the past, we might have rolled over and let it go, but they didn’t,” he went on. “That’s a credit to development of character and determination and the attitude that it takes to be successful, which carries over to everything else that they’re going to do in life.”

According to Coach Mahaffey, the team will be saying good-bye to “eight or nine seniors,” who he believes stand to benefit greatly from the lifelong memories the season has provided them.

“They’ve experienced something that not everybody gets to experience,” he pointed out. “It’s something you can look back on in your life and fall back on as success and a chance to have fought through adversity and been successful and accomplished some goals.

“We’re extremely proud of every one of them and their contribution to what we did this year,” he finished.

GISD Board President Eddie Childress spoke on behalf of the board, voicing their appreciation for the players and coaches.

“What I want you to know is how much we appreciate the way you handle yourselves and, as Coach Mahaffey said, what you displayed by winning and going as far as you did,” Childress said. “I was at the Evadale game, and it was a hard-fought game, and it really sealed how much y’all wanted to win a game. You can always quit, but you wanted to win that game. I don’t know of anybody in Grapeland that wasn’t excited.

“We look forward to the future and whatever that holds, but right now, we’re going to be excited about going three deep in the playoffs,” he went on. “We appreciate you very much.”

Sarah Naron may be reached via email at snaron@messenger-news.com.