Update: After NBC 5 aired this report Tuesday, the donations on Blum's GoFundMe page went from $700 beyond the $15,000 requested to cover the cost of the championship rings.
In Blum, population 400, Friday means football for the entire community.
“You know, kind of like Friday Night Lights, the movie. We all line our lawn chairs up on Friday nights and the bleachers are full,” said Paula French.
Though there’s plenty of pride and support, never in the history of this six-man, Class A team has it brought home the top title. At least it hadn’t, until this past year under the direction of head football coach Cooper Thornhill.
“It was just surreal. You know, all those fans and the amount of people that were there,” said Thornhill.
Back in December, Thornhill’s team of 23 boys became the first from Blum to reach the Class A State Championship. They traveled to Arlington to take the field at AT&T Stadium against the McLean Tigers.
The game was a nail- biter, which Thornhill said all boiled down to the final three seconds. Blum held on and brought home the win a generation of Bobcats had long hoped to see.
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“Stands went wild. Crowd went wild. It was crazy,” said quarterback Dylan Vardeman.
It’s a moment Vardeman and his teammates hope to never forget. That’s why the UIL offers state championship rings to help players from the last team standing in each class and division remember the hard work it took to get to the top.
“Everybody knows what a Texas State Championship ring is, you know? Especially in the state of Texas were football is so important, you know? And it’s not important because it’s a sport, it’s important because it brings so many communities together,” said Thornhill.
As wonderful as winning a championship is, the rings cost $400 per player, an amount unattainable by many of the families in the small town. With just a couple of businesses, there’s no one to turn to for sponsorships. Thornhill also said UIL rules don’t allow the district to chip in unless it’s outlined in the district’s policy, which he said it’s not.
That’s why Paula French, an administrative assistant for the district, created a GoFundMe page as a “Hail Mary” effort to get the $15,000 necessary to get rings for the team’s players, along with recognition for the coaches, trainers and team’s cheerleaders.
“With all the hard work, they deserve it,” said French.
When this story originally aired, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, supporters had raised only $700 of the money necessary to order the rings for the players, trainers and cheerleaders before seniors graduate and the rest head their separate ways this spring.
Less than 24 hours after the story aired, the $15,000 goal had been reached and exceeded.
"I cannot thank you and your staff and NBC enough for the coverage! Just a few moments ago, the Go Fund Me account pushed over the estimated cost of $15,000. With this, they will be able to purchase their rings and truly enjoy this in the way of true champions. Though I am not from this wonderful town and only know the kind people who live there, I am so thankful for its people, the community, hometown pride and I am so very grateful for people as wonderful as you, willing to help out. Thanks again! God bless you all," said Betsy Conner.
Organizers said any excess left over after the rings are purchases will likely be used to support the team in some capacity.