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Screening for team success

Dec. 12, 2012 at 6:12 a.m.
Updated Dec. 13, 2012 at 6:13 a.m.

Mike Johnson works to screen print El Campo State Championship T-shirts at The Screen Stop on Wednesday. Johnson and his employees are working long hours to finish about 1,400 shirts that need to be completed by Friday morning for the game.

As game time approaches, El Campo Ricebirds fans are buzzing in team spirit and T-shirts.

About 1,400 T-shirt orders by Friday morning - to be more precise.

And for the small town of about 11,000 on U.S. Highway 59, that means people and orders have swamped The Screen Stop for the latest high school football apparel and other paraphernalia to honor the school's first trip to the state title game in 45 years.

The demand has gone into overdrive in Wharton County as undefeated El Campo (14-0) plays for the Class 3A, Division I title Friday night. Neighboring East Bernard (13-0) will play in the Class 2A, Division II semifinals Friday in Waco.

Leigh Ann Johnson, who owns The Screen Stop with her husband Mike, said business has been busy the last couple of months, but the last three weeks have been "a little crazy."

"I say that with a big smile," Johnson said. "This is fun. We are diehard Ricebird fans."

People from across Wharton County have stopped by to order shirts in support of El Campo. Monday afternoon, a customer who grew up in Victoria stopped to buy a T-shirt.

"We have been blessed in the fact that we do quite a bit of work for people in Victoria, Palacios, Wharton, Rosenberg and Shiner," Johnson said. "We've been very blessed and we've put in a lot of hours."

Business has not stopped the Johnsons from attending games. Leigh Ann was at Friday's semifinal win over Carthage in Beaumont and called it the best football game she's ever seen.

The Johnsons were born and raised in Wharton County. Both are Texas A&M graduates who wanted to move back to their hometown near family.

Lori Polak has a similar story.

For the last eight years, Polak has owned Creative Impressions in downtown East Bernard. When she bought the business in 2004, Polak was working in Houston and wanted to come back home.

"Every year has been exciting, but this year is the most exciting because this is the furthest we've gone in a long time," Polak said. "The last two weeks have been pretty crazy, but it's been a great crazy."

One son, Garrett, is a running back for this year's team, while an older son, Justin, is also a former Brahmas football player.

During the 2012 playoff run, her business has been inundated with people looking to buy T-shirts and cowbells. East Bernard has fewer than 2,300 residents; however, Polak estimates she has sold between 600 and 700 T-shirts.

This week, Polak said Creative Impressions is also selling car flags.

"The last three Fridays have been unbelievably busy after lunch until we close," Polak said. "It's been just non-stop, this week even more so. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we were busy with people wanting shirts and caps."

The East Bernard ISD Booster Club has rented charter buses to help fans make the playoff games. The tickets are sold at Creative Impressions.

Polak said fans were awaiting her arrival Tuesday morning so they could reserve their seat on the bus for Friday's game. Polak praised her employees Patti Jurecek and Brittany Sanchez for helping her handle the rush.

"The further we get into the season, there is not a person that doesn't come into the shop or that you cross in the street who doesn't want to talk about football," Polak said. "They are excited and want to talk about their predictions."

Here's one prediction Polak and the Johnsons would agree on: El Campo and East Bernard mean business when they line up under the Friday night lights.

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