The press conferences for losing teams at state championship games are usually a solemn event.
Long faces are worn and tears often stream down as the finality of a season coming to an end one step short of ultimate victory sets in. But there was nothing ordinary about the Fairfield Eagles, and they set a much different tone, answering questions thoughtfully and with smiles on their faces.
Sure, coach John Bachtel and his players wanted nothing more than to take home the Class 3A Divison II title, and they battled top-ranked Argyle right down to the wire in a classic of a game before falling just short, 38-33.
“You have to take losses like you take wins, especially big ones like that,” Fairfield quarterback Jacob Gallegos said. “We always had faith that going to win game, and we knew could do it. But we also told each other, too, this is farthest you can go. We’re happy with the outcome because it was God’s will.”
After losing a teammate during two-a-days, coming up just short in a football game wasn’t the end of the world.
On the night of August 13, 15-year-old sophomore Jonathan Childers, the son of Fairfield defensive coordinator Kevin Childers, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
It was a tragedy that left many asking why, a question that will likely never be answered.
“He was a great guy. Everywhere he went, he had the same smile and was always real positive,” Fairfield receiver and defensive back Chris Lide said. “When he would walk into a room, everybody would grin. Everybody liked him. … He didn’t show any signs. We all thought everything was going nice and easy. He was in two-a-days working hard and doing everything to get ready for the season.”
Difficult experiences tend to have one of two effects on a group of people. It either bonds them together or tears them apart. Kevin Childers made sure Fairfield would do the former by standing up in front of the team the morning after his son died.
“It just shows you how strong he is physically and mentally,” Lide said. “That’s the worst thing a parent could deal with, and he showed how strong he was to be able to deal with it. He and his wife, and the community handled it. One person falls down, and the community is there picking him back up. It showed us a great amount of strength.”
That strength was evident on and off the field in Fairfied, and it made the Eagles the choice for the Tribune-Herald’s 2013 Jinx Tucker Award.
The Jinx Tucker Award is given annually to honor the memory of a man who gained national respect in his 33 years as the Trib’s sports editor until his death in 1953. The award was founded in 1956 by Tucker’s successor, Dave Campbell.
It is emblematic of Tucker, who stressed sportsmanship, fairness and team play. The winner must exhibit overall team success, improvement throughout the season, sportsmanship, fan support and a will to win in the face of adversity.
“It was hard. It was a very difficult time,” Bachtel said. “The community, team, school, everybody loves all of the Childers (family), and it was an amazing thing to see the support. I feel like the kids were working hard anyway, but that was the event that really pulled us all together. We build back very strong, and I thought that was special. That’s something these kids will never forget, that the community won’t forget.”
Fairfield wasn’t even picked to win its district by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, but the Eagles made it clear early they weren’t going to be an easy out.
The scored at least 50 points in each of their first four games, setting up a showdown on the road with then-No. 2 Navasota, the defending 3A Division I state champion which came in with a 20-game winning streak.
Fairfied put a stop to that, 44-24, a victory that send shockwaves throughout the state and announced its status as a legitimate contender.
That 20-point margin of victory was the closest game the Eagles played until the state title game.
Along they way, they racked up 893 points, blowing away the old 3A mark of 803 set by Southlake Carroll in 1992.
It was a team effort, but nobody shined brighter than running back Larry Rose. The senior slashed through defenses for a Central Texas-record 2,979 rushing yards and 51 touchdowns to earn the 3A Player of the Year honor on the Associated Press Sports Editors all-state team.
Once the Eagles finished off Sinton, 56-13, in the state semifinals, it finally hit them that they were going to get a chance on the largest of stages. Fairfield took the opportunity to support its team one more time, filling up the lower bowl at AT&T Stadium behind the Eagles’ sideline and making up the majority of the 22,071 in attendance.
“I couldn’t ask for a better senior year,” Rose said. “Overcoming the ups and downs and making it to the state championship game, it doesn’t get any better than that. … Before the game, I just stopped and looked around and took it all in. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was definitely a wonderful experience. I’d bet the city of Fairfield was pretty empty.”
Rose had another big day with 26 carries for 260 yards and two touchdowns, but he was stopped short on a fourth-and-4 run from the Argyle 11 with 1:14 to go the end the Eagles’ championship bid.
Their incredible season was over, but they handled it with grace and dignity.
“We talk about having class and having character,” Bachtel said. “To say you have them or to say a school or team has it is one thing, but to actually show it is another. The kids were devastated we lost, but we were thankful we got a chance to play in the state championship. They know there’s more to life, too, because we’ve seen it. Football’s important, but it’s not the end result. The kids got to see that, and they have a great perspective on things. With that, they’re going to be a success in life. That’s really the goal.”
Jinx Tucker Trophy winners
The Jinx Tucker Memorial Trophy is given each year by the Tribune-Herald to honor the memory of a man who gained national respect in his 33 years as the Trib’s sports editor until his death in 1953. The award was founded in 1956 by Tucker’s succesor, Dave Campbell.
The award is emblematic of a man who stressed sportsmanship, fairness, and team play. The winner of the award must exhibit overall team success, improvement throughout the season, sportsmanship, fan support, and a will to win in the face of adversity.
1960 Gatesville and Riesel
1967 Bruceville Eddy and Clifton
1973 China Spring
1977 Valley Mills and Marlin
1978 China Spring
1979 McGregor and Temple
1985 Hillsboro and Richfield
1989 La Vega
1998 Copperas Cove
1999 Waco High
2006 La Vega