By CLINT FOSTER
I was excited.
Much to the chagrin of my sports editor, Tony Eierdam – who was obligated to cover the Mineral Wells game last Friday – I had been assigned to cover the fabled Gordon-Strawn game. Well known as one of the best and fiercest six man football rivalries in the entire state of Texas, I was expecting a great, unique experience.
Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine had tabbed it as the six-man Game of the Week. I was ready to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy a thrilling, competitive game fueled by the hatred of two perennial six man powers less than nine miles apart. I was hoping for Palo Pinto County’s annual, six-man football version of a civil war.
What I got was so much better.
When I first drove into Strawn – a town of roughly 643 with a railroad track running right down the middle – I was immediately charmed by the small town atmosphere. Signs of Greyhound spirit were everywhere I looked and I swiftly pulled into Mary’s Cafe to grab dinner. I had heard the hype and needless to say I was just about as excited to eat Mary’s famous chicken fried steak as I was to watch the game. I ate my meal, talked with some friendly locals and went on my way, following a path of red and black paw prints to Greyhound Stadium. I immediately noticed Strawn’s state championship monuments, giving just a snapshot of their storied tradition.
It was a picturesque scene before kickoff. As the small stadium filled beyond capacity, the sunset burst into a beautiful palate of colors behind the green North Texas Hill Country landscape. A train blew its whistle as it passed directly behind the stadium as if to say “good luck” to the boys about to play one of America’s greatest sports. It was one of those “God Bless Texas” moments.
Although the final score wasn’t that close – Strawn 45’ed Gordon with 7:28 left in the game to win 75-30 – it was a hard-fought, fun game from start to finish.
The Greyhounds and Longhorns traded scores early before momentum shifted and Strawn took control. Harrison Nowak looked spectacular and there was the added intrigue of former Longhorn Coletyn King – playing his first game against Gordon – who rattled off 115 yards on 21 carries with two rushing touchdowns and another 84 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. Both teams played hard, they played clean and they left it out on the field.
It was everything that you could want out of a rivalry game, or any football game for that matter. It wasn’t fueled by hate, it was fueled by young men playing a sport they love against other young men that just so happen to live down the road and just so happen to be in the state championship mix with them just about every year.
Then something very special happened that really opened my eyes to the depth of these two communities.
Gordon head coach Joe Kostiha’s son was recently diagnosed with Congenital Disorder of Glycosylation Type 1-A.
It’s a rare genetic disorder that involves severe errors in the metabolism in which tissue proteins and/or lipids are deficient or defective.
This can hinder a child’s growth and movement among other things. In most cases, children don’t live past a year after their diagnosis.
In most rivalries, you might not expect the other team to even acknowledge such a circumstance, but this wasn’t most rivalries.
This was Gordon and Strawn.
Strawn announced over the loudspeaker at Greyhound Stadium during the game that they were selling raffle tickets for various donated items and all of the money would go to support the Gordon coach and his family in their time of need.
It was truly an overwhelming show of support from a “rival” community and one I was not expecting.
“It’s unbelievable the affection that they have shown us to do that,” Kostiha told me after the game. “People don’t realize how tough it’s been the last two or three weeks. I’m lucky that I have such a great wife... and the family we have around here: the Gordon and Strawn family.”
Kostiha said Strawn Superintendent Brent Dawson – one of Kostiha’s best friends and a groomsman at his wedding – spearheaded the fundraiser. Strawn head coach Dewaine Lee expected nothing less from the Strawn community.
“I think people in general in the two communities want to win, just for the bragging rights for a year, but it’s clean and if anything happened over there or here, the community is going to step up,” he said. “Coach Kostiha is one of my good friends. We’ve been friends since before he was coach over there and he’s been in our house many times.”
How special to know that every member of a two-town community will have your back no matter what.
When Gordon and Strawn meet on the gridiron each year, there’s no doubt that it’s a hard-fought rivalry that pits neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother. But at the end of the day, that also means that these two communities are a family and Gordon and Strawn know it.
This is Texas high school football in its purest, most unadulterated form. Amateur athletes playing clean and hard for the love of the game and a 100 percent supportive community behind them that will also do whatever is necessary to support a community member in need. It’s a moving tribute to the power of a caring community with the right attitude.
God bless Gordon and Strawn and God bless the family of Joe Kostiha.
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55