A sea of red and white. Basketball arenas packed to standing-room-only capacity. Championship effort on the baseball diamond.
Fans bleeding red and gold. Students filling the stands at every home game. Colorful coaches teaching life lessons to their players through sports.
For over three decades, the rivalry between Victoria High and Victoria Stroman was a staple in the community, and these were just some of the sights one might see on any given night.
East baseball coach Wes Kolle, VHS Class of '97: "You grew up in the 80s watching those guys play, and that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to be Stingarees and play on Friday nights at Memorial Stadium, and in the spring we wanted to play baseball at Riverside."
Cuero girls basketball coach Amy Alkek Crain, VHS Class of '83: "It was one of those city rivalries. Whether it was football or basketball, that game was always penciled in on our schedule."
West baseball coach Manuel Alvarado, Stroman Class of '85: Every time, it was Victoria High and Stroman going at it. It didn't matter what your record was. You're looking forward to that game, and it brings out the best of Victoria."
The Victoria High and Stroman rivalry was still going strong when The Advocate published its 150th anniversary issue in 1996.
Twenty-five years later, Victoria High and Stroman are no more. Mascots have vanished, and trophies have been thrown out in their consolidation into Victoria Memorial in 2000.
East vs. West is now the annual rivalry game, but many former players from Victoria High and Stroman have become coaches, both in the Crossroads and throughout Texas.
This story aims to paint a picture of those teams through their eyes.
FOOTBALL AND FAMILY
Victoria High football games had been an event for decades by the time Mark Reeve and his family arrived in town in 1990.
Five thousand fans filled the home stands — 10,000 for the Stroman game — in a sea of red that greeted the players as they marched down to Memorial Stadium.
Under Reeve, along with coordinators Wayne Condra and Leonard McAngus, the Stingarees experienced their most successful era. Despite never being loaded with Division I talent, the Stingarees won seven district titles between 1990-98.
New Caney football coach TRAVIS REEVE, VHS Class of '94: "We really were the epitome of what a football family is, and I think guys genuinely cared about each other. I think it showed with the success we were able to have. Everybody was committed to being there for each other, working, fighting for each other. It's resulted in a lot of lifetime relationships that have lasted over the years."
New Caney offensive coordinator CHARLIE REEVE, VHS Class of '99: "The things that really stick out to me are discipline, dedication, character. All things that we kinda hung our hat on were the pillars of our program at Victoria High."
The Stingarees' culture was formed in the offseason Sting-Maker boot camp, a period of training and team bonding. Former Stingaree players, now coaches, still have their red headbands from boot camp training, Charlie Reeve said.
KOLLE: "They were talking and preaching "trust the process" before it was a catchphrase, stuff you hear Nick Saban talking about. They were all about building the culture and trusting the process and working hard."
West head football coach COURTNEY BOYCE, VHS Class of '96: "Everybody had a lot of respect for going to school there and playing sports. Our coaches had a great deal to do with that. They gave us a lot of confidence. If you're confident I think you play better.
Travis Reeve quarterbacked the Stingarees to the state semifinals in 1993, the furthest any Victoria school has gone in the UIL playoffs.
Mark Reeve left in 1999 to become head coach at Plano West, partly due to disagreements over consolidation. But Travis and Charlie Reeve both followed Mark Reeve's footsteps and are coaching together at New Caney after leading Cuero to a state championship in 2018.
MARK REEVE: "It's not about wins and losses. I believe that a coaching staff can change a whole community through the kids that they coach. I think a lot of the coaches, some of them in Victoria now, some of them at other places, that's the influence I'm hoping that they're making and when I look at their program, that's what I see, how much they care about the kids and what they're willing to do to help build their character and their work ethic."
1985 was a banner year for Stroman High School.
The Raiders made their only football playoff appearance in the fall, but in the spring, baseball reached the mountain top.
Edward "Hodie" Garcia coached the Raiders from 1983 to 1988 and instilled a culture of discipline and hard work that was aimed to create success in the classroom, at work and on the baseball field.
It paid off when Stroman defeated Pasadena Rayburn 3-0 to win the Class 5A state championship.
ALVARADO: "We grew up playing Little League against each other and then got put together on one team. We busted our butt those years getting to the state championship. That's something no one can ever take away from you."
HODIE GARCIA: "We created something there at Stroman. The kids get the credit. All I had for them was a plan, and I made sure I stuck with the plan and then took it from there every day. We weren't going to take back seats to anyone, and the kids, they took to that attitude."
Stroman lost in the state semifinals the following year, but the '85 championship made Stroman the only Victoria school to win a title in baseball.
While the Raiders never found sustained success on the football field, members of the '85 team continue to carry on Garcia's teachings.
ALVARADO: "At the end we're just all friends and get along together. It's gratifying to see former players and even rivals being successful and seeing them loving the game and teaching the game and hopefully they can also be successful."
KOLLE: "Coach (Michael) Yates has been with us since Day One at East. I remember my dad taking me to watch those Stroman Raider games in the 80s. It's always fun to reminisce and go down memory lane and at the same time try to instill some of the lessons they learned as athletes into these current East Titan athletes."
THE PLACE TO BE
When school was out for summer, anyone from Victoria High or Stroman could be found attending the Red & White Summer League, the brain child of longtime Stingarees boys basketball coach Mike Smith, one of the original organizers of the Texas Basketball Coaches Association.
About 600 people would fill up either gymnasium as Smith had made basketball a must-see event in the community.
Corpus Christi King boys basketball coach SEAN ARMSTRONG, VHS Class of '99: "He got everyone in town passionate about basketball because of summer league. Coach Smith was one of the first guys to do summer leagues in Texas with the Red & White League. So that was what you did during the summer."
West boys basketball coach PAT ERSKINE, VHS Class of '82: We lived for basketball, and we lived for practice. Some people say they really liked playing the games and the success that we had. But we liked practice just as much as we liked the games."
Smith coached the Stingarees from 1972 to 1998, winning 17 district titles and making 21 playoff appearances. The Stingarees reached the state tournament two times, but both times fell to the eventual state champion. Regardless, his former players continue to praise Smith for his impact on basketball and how it shaped them.
Erskine: "What made us just want to run through walls for him was that he made us believe in ourselves, believe that we could win. He taught us to 'expect to win.' That's probably a life lesson in everything that we do. He always felt like if we were prepared, we had a chance to win at any cost."
Concordia Lutheran girls basketball coach Steve Spurlin, VHS Class of '81: "It didn't matter what records either Victoria or Stroman had. In any sport, it was a rivalry. We'd play with them. We knew them. We hung out with them, but when it was that game, that night, what sport, it didn't matter. Throw everything out the window, it was gonna be rockin' and rollin'."
The Victoriadores, the cheerleaders and the Bleacher Creatures — about 200 football players — never missed a home game. In the 90s, the Stingarees played the Michael Jordan era Chicago Bulls theme music during player introductions, complete with spotlight and everything. Everything possible to intimidate the opposing team.
MIKE SMITH: "It's very gratifying because I've watched almost all these guys and their teams really remind me of our old teams, the way they play, the way they have discipline, the way they have unity. Pat Erskine had a great team this year. He did it like I would've done it. He made a family out of the group and made 'em commit to each other, put the team first."
A LEGACY ON THE COURT
One of the best basketball programs in Texas belonged to the Victoria Stingarettes.
Head coach Jan Lahodny created a culture that made her both feared and loved by her players. With three state championships in 1979, 1982, 1986 and eight state tournament appearances between 1975-96, it was a culture that had success on the basketball court and led to several alumni entering the coaching ranks throughout the Crossroads.
East girls basketball coach YULONDA WIMBISH-NORTH, VHS Class of '83: "When I went in, there was a history, there was a tradition of winning state. That was the goal. That was the vision. Once you got there, it was the expectation of you compete and you're working to be the best in the state."
Former St. Joseph girls basketball coach CARRIE HELDT MYERS, VHS Class of '89: "Every practice was intense. Definitely taught you how to be a winner and not like to lose. If we were late to practice, there was punishment. I can recall running down the hallways to get to our fourth period athletics so that we'd be on time."
CRAIN: "Coach Lahodny had really put our program and Victoria on the map. We knew that each and every year we had the opportunity to get to state, and that was our goal. We knew how to get there. We knew that our coaches and Lahodny knew how to get there. We had good days. We had bad days, but we never questioned anything. It was always 'we're going to get after it.'"
Wimbish-North and Crain were on the '82 state championship team and both went on to win national championships at Texas and USC, respectively.
But the '89 state runner-up team is the one group from Lahodny's tenure that has a reunion every year.
PATTY SMITH NORWOOD, VHS Class of '89: "There wasn't just one good player on our team or one outstanding player, we worked as a team and as a unit. Without that unit we wouldn't be successful and I think that created a bond with her and with us that just kept going."
MYERS: "The majority of us played together at Crain Middle School, and then we added the girls from Howell, so we always had a rivalry with them. But once you put us together, it just took us to a new level. We're as close today as we were back in high school."
LAHODNY: "They know that the most important thing is that a coach has to love her players. The players will do anything for them. I used to run 'em like dogs, but I'd still have a lot of fun with them off the court, and I think they take that same approach."
The party ended in 1999 when the Victoria Independent School District announced that Victoria High and Stroman would consolidate into Victoria Memorial after the 1999-2000 academic year.
In one fell swoop, all the championship trophies and banners were thrown away, and the Stingaree and Raider mascots were covered up to make room for the Vipers. It's a decision that doesn't sit well with alumni to this day.
MYERS: "Losing our home school was hard. The last time we met, we went over to the high school and took pictures with the Stingaree on the floor. My parents were Stingarees. I was a Stingaree. My brother was a Stingaree. It's just hard growing up in this town to see that it's not there anymore."
ALVARADO: "I feel bad for Stroman and Victoria High. A lot of good memories were made across the years in sports and other areas, too. Kids growing up now have no recollection of how good those teams were. It was a great rivalry."
WIMBISH-NORTH: "We can tell them about it, but they don't see anything. They don't even know the rich history that girls basketball was something even before I got to Victoria High. But there's nothing that these kids could go and even see to know the history of girls basketball in the city of Victoria."
Memorial lasted only 10 years. The old campuses have been converted. East and West are now the Victoria public high schools.
Smith and Lahodny are still coaching as the girls head golf coach and assistant girls basketball coach at East, respectively.
There may be no trophies or banners for future students to look back on, but the stories remain. Be it former players of Mark Reeve, Hodie Garcia, Mike Smith or Jan Lahodny, former Stingarees and Raiders continue to coach in the Crossroads and throughout Texas, passing on the lessons to the next generation of players.
CRAIN: "The lessons I try to pass onto the kids is just what can you do daily to help yourself be a better student. Be a better friend; be a better teammate? You get the opportunity to teach these young ladies at a young age. I think they'll take with them for the rest of their lives."
TRAVIS REEVE: "We need coaches that are willing to put in the time and effort to pore into kids' lives and make an effort. A lot of the guys that have come from Victoria are doing that at their respective places and it's a lot of fun to see."
A special thank you to Yulonda Wimbish-North, Carrie Heldt Myers, Patty Norwood, John Grammer, Travis Reeve, Paula Smith, Charlie Reeve, Zach Mueller, Courtney Boyce, Daniel Tunchez, Jaime Thomas, Pat Erskine, Manuel Alvarado, Hodie Garcia, Mark Reeve, Wayne Condra, Wes Kolle, Mike Smith, Jan Lahodny, Sean Armstrong, Amy Crain, Steve Spurlin, Jerhme Urban and Kelley Louth Morris for contributing to this story.