By SCOTT W. COLEMAN
Four Points News
Team spirit is easy to identify. Just look in the stands during football season on Friday night. Look on the sidelines. The smiling faces, voices raised in cheer, and the shouts of encouragement lift the players’ spirits and can make a tangible difference in the game.
This season, team spirit on the Vandegrift sideline may be best embodied in the face — and the smile — of 16-year-old junior Chris Lucido.
During Friday night’s postseason playoff win versus San Antonio Johnson at Monroe Stadium, Vipers shared laughs and pats on the back. Chief among those celebrating was Lucido, an unofficial member of the team who has committed much of the last two years of his high school career to being among the team’s biggest supporters.
Chris has been at every practice. He’s been at every game. He’s seen the players at their best and at their most frustrated. He’s cheered them up and cheered them on. And they’re cheering right back at him.
“Chris will immediately brighten your day, just as soon as he starts talking to you,” said Drew Sanders, head football coach and VHS athletic director.
Take the Vandegrift 27-16 win over Hays on Oct. 28 when the Vipers had clinched a playoff berth in their first season as a Class 6A program. As the clock ticked down, senior quarterback Alex Fernandes joked with Chris as player after player came by to share in the celebratory atmosphere. Sophomore Drew Nelson and senior Morris Aranda watched Chris demonstrate the perfect version of a ‘dab’ — a move made hugely popular by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton last year.
When the clock hit zero, the players rushed the field, and Chris was right there with them. He was there when the players and cheerleaders gathered in front of the student section to sing the school song, and he was there when Sanders gave the team his victory speech, crediting their resilience in bouncing back from a 1-4 start to reach the playoffs.
Minutes later, Chris and senior linebacker Storm Wilson stood at the center of a large circle of players and led the team in their traditional post-game spell out. As Storm lifted Chris on his shoulders for the chant “1-2-3 Win!” it’s difficult to imagine that Chris Lucido is any less valuable, or any less a part of the Vipers, than those wearing pads and jerseys.
Chris is just one of many ‘support personnel’ who volunteers time to help the team. They’re people in whom team spirit is so very evident.
“I like it when my team wins, but I also like just helping,” said Chris. “I like watching football, and I really like being with the players.”
Throughout the season, by the time the athletes on the football team took the field on Friday nights to play for 48 minutes of gridiron glory, they have spent literally hundreds of hours doing work that is mentally and physically challenging — and unrewarding — just to have a chance to play in the game. From the weight rooms to the practice fields, football players give a huge portion of their student life for the opportunity to play the sport they love.
But a lot of people who will never have the chance to achieve that glory on the field also commit huge portions of their high school careers to helping the football team succeed. These young people show up long before dawn, hours before their fellow students will arrive on campus. They move and set up heavy equipment, tape the players’ ankles and fill water bottles to keep nearly 100 student athletes hydrated in the Texas heat that can be daunting even at 6 a.m. in early fall. After practice, as the players are returning to the locker rooms, these students stay behind to clean up.
They are at every practice. They’re at every game. And Vandegrift coach Sanders said they’re just as much a part of the team’s success as the players and coaches are.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but you can’t do this without those support personnel. We can’t do enough to equal what they do for us,” said Sanders.
At 6 a.m. on a random Wednesday in October, Chris was on the field handing out water and cheering the players on during the very inglourious practices that are a necessary part of every student athlete’s life. Along with student athletic trainers Hannah Breeden and Ashley Black, Chris made sure that players who were cut or otherwise injured received assistance and made sure their assigned group of players had everything they needed in order to safely practice.
Breeden, who has spent the last two years around Chris and the football program, said Chris gets a special joy out of being around the players and knowing that he’s an important part of their success.
Most of their fellow students won’t arrive on campus for more than two hours. By that time, the players will have headed back to the locker room to change and start their day. Meanwhile, the Chris, Hannah and Ashley, along with the other student trainers will be packing up and moving gear to clear the field.
It’s something they volunteer to do, but at Vandegrift, Sanders teaches his players to make sure to acknowledge and respect everyone who helps them on their way to achieving success on the field.
“I teach my players on the first day that we’re here serving them, because they’re here serving us,” Sanders explained. “It’s one of the greatest lessons … take care of everybody no matter what role they have.”
That Chris is a special needs student has little to do with how much he cares, how passionately he supports the Vipers, or how hard he works.
It does, according to Sanders, serve as an example of how open and welcoming the Vandegrift student population is.
“I’ve been at a lot of great schools, but I’ve never seen anything like it as far as how kind our kids are. Chris even has followers, they’re like his fans.” Sanders said. “They take care of him, and he takes care of them, too. He’s a part of this program, and they’re all a part of each other’s lives.”
“I get emotional about it, because I feel like the parents and us as a coaching staff are doing something right,” Sanders said. “These are some great kids. Yes, they’re great football players, but more importantly, they’re great people. Here they are wanting Chris to lead them in spell out after a game. That’s a special moment. Chris is going to remember that for the rest of his life, and hopefully the players are going to remember that too. I know I will. It reminds you what’s really important in life.”