Donations help support state school football program

An ex-convict group presented a $3,529 check Wednesday to the Gainesville State School. Pictured on the left are r/ExCons/ members Omid Ghaffari and Chris Cash. On the right are state school students Elliot and Brandon and state school football coach Henry Thomas.

Editor’s note: Last names of state school students are not published at the request of Texas Juvenile Justice Department officials.

A group of former prison inmates helped make things better for members of the Gainesville State School Tornados football team.

Their organization — r/ExCons/ — is a group of individuals who have done prison time and are living productive lives.

Three members of r/ExCons/ were at the state school facility Wednesday to present a $3,529 check for sports equipment including new shoes for the students.

The Gainesville State School football program has a history that tugs at the hearts of some.

In 2008, fans at Grapevine Faith in Grapevine sat in the visitor bleachers and cheered the state school team during a contest that was later known as the One Heart Bowl.

The initiative was Grapevine Faith coach Kris Hogan’s idea. Hogan said he wanted the state school players — who often have only a small following — to know someone cares about them.

Members of r/ExCons/ said they found out about the Grapevine Faith/State School game and wanted to help the state school players. They set up a GoFundMe account to raise $500 for new shoes for the players.

Donations exceeded the original goal. The funds raised were also enough to buy some new equipment for the team. 

State School superintendent Mike Studamire said the ex-convict group wanted to help the students because “they know how hard it is to get reactivated into society.” 

“This is their way of helping these kids,” he said. “Football is a big thing for this group and [r/ExCons/] wanted to support it.”

The students must earn trust before they can participate in sports, Studamire said.

“They have to be doing good in class and good in [daily activities] to be on the team,” he said.

County Attorney Ed Zielinski — speaking Wednesday to a group which included three state school football players — said state school inmates are “at a crossroads.”

“Now you have the chance to turn the right way,” he told the young men. “No one here is at a dead end... The most important thing in life is to know that someone cares about you.”

Being able to play sports helps the students form bonds and friendships. 

“I’ve never felt more love in the 17 years of my life than I’ve felt this year,” state school football player Elliot said.