The following article by Meri Elen Jacobs was published in the UIL Leaguer, the official publications of the University Interscholastic League. Meri Elen Jacobs is the yearbook/newspaper advisor at West Orange-Stark High School, where she has taught journalism classes and English for 11 years.

They came in boxes and garbage bags from all over the state of Texas-green and gold linked to red and baby blue, black and red linked to purple and white, most with notes on every individual link-from “RIP Reggie Garrett” to “112%,” some with messages of three to five sentences and others with drawings fit to be in an art contest. The support offered by schools from El Paso to Marshall, Bridgeport to New Braunfels and so many more was overwhelming. However, the links that meant the most were the ones from around Southeast Texas.

Paper chain links were sent by elementary schools, middle schools and high schools all over the state of Texas to be hung around the football field for the first game after the West Orange-Stark Mustangs lost their senior quarterback, Reggie Garrett, on Sept. 17.

Game Day, Sept. 17

Sept. 17 began as any other game day Friday-students were greeted with writing all over the windows showing their school spirit. Paper megaphones, boots and footballs with names of all the participants were hung up and down all of the hallways above the lockers. Posters with “Go Mustangs” and “Beat those Bulldogs!” graced every wall that was available. This would be the first home game of the year and the team was seeking revenge. The Jasper Bulldogs beat the Mustangs in a close game last year, 23-13. The community was also excited about the first tailgate party, hosted by the school, to be held in the parking lot from 5-7 p.m.

No one suspected that around 8:30 p.m. that night, with a little over nine minutes left in the second quarter, Reggie would throw a perfect touchdown pass to his favorite receiver, Mark Roberts, run to the sidelines, collapse, and never get up.

That Weekend

And no one could imagine the support that would follow. In after-game huddles all over the state that night, teams prayed for the West Orange-Stark Mustangs and the Garrett family. By the next morning, teams from the area had brought team shirts and hung them on the stadium fence with messages showing their support. That Saturday night, West Brook High School had “RIP Reggie” and “112%” written all over themselves for their game. On Sunday, counselors from 11 area schools gathered to plan how to deal with the students and staff for the next week.

So many messages were left on the athletic office answering machine over the weekend that it took the secretary all day to listen to them all between the phone calls that she received. The office had numerous phone calls and emails from as far away as Hawaii and some as famous as the Houston Texans and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears.

But what meant the most was the way that schools all over Texas reached out to WO-S in the time of crisis and tragedy with most not even knowing Reggie. Schools sent posters of encouragement that were hung all over the school.

The Memorial Service

Several Nederland High School players and coaches showed up the morning of the memorial with more words of encouragement and a beautifully framed picture from the game against them with their signatures. Others sent monogrammed towels and helmet stickers. A high school coach from Grapevine Faith Christian School sent autographed books, “Remember Why You Play” with a personal letter for each player. The response was overwhelming.
Right after the memorial service, many of the football players, dressed in their jerseys, showed up at the cross-town rivals’ game. It happened to be the end of halftime and the head coach at Little Cypress-Mauriceville, let the boys join his players in their tunnel, run out with them and actually cheer the Bears on from their sidelines. Several varsity players actually ran the Bear flag each time they scored. At the end of the game, the players gathered in their post-game huddle and repeated the Lord’s Prayer together, before watching a video tribute that LC-M had made to Reggie. Cross-town rivals, arm-in-arm, cheering each other on was something this town had never experienced.

WOS Final Home Game

Week nine was the last home football game and the last of the chains were hung. The school received so many that they covered the fences for three home games instead of just one-new chains for each game. And no one complained about having to hang them…after all they were for Reggie.

As the chains were taken down, a message caught my eye. It read:

“My prayer and thoughts goes out to Reggie’s classmates, friends and family members. When you feel like everything that surrounds you falls down and you’re ready to fall down with it know that he will be behind you with open arms. We at Fredericksburg High School have felt the same pain you have. Know that this band is a word of encouragement. REGGIE MAY BE GONE BUT KNOW THAT HIS MEMORY WILL LIVE ON FOREVER! J Abby

This was just one of thousands of messages that students from kindergarten to high school wrote and shared with a hurting school and community.

Thank You

Several schools in this area even sold t-shirts with Reggie messages, donating the money to the Reggie Garrett Scholarship foundation. Most of the t-shirts were designed by students and marketed by them as well. LC-M, Hamshire-Fannett, Bridge City, Nederland, Orangefield, and Kirbyville showed their support by doing this. Tears came to my eyes this past weekend when I saw several people I didn’t even know sporting these shirts at the mall. The response to support us, even from teams that we beat on the football field was unbelievable. Three students from Liberty High School chose Reggie to remember on their celebration of Dia de los Muertos in their Spanish class at school.

Thank you to those who took the time to call, email, pray or send paper chain links or posters to show your support and to those who also sold t-shirts, donating the proceeds to his scholarship foundation. Words cannot express our gratitude for your support in this time here at WO-S High School. You have made a difference here and been a part of our healing process.