Ricebirds fall in state championship (video)

Dec. 15, 2012 at 6:15 a.m.

El Campo fans Darren Tupa and Cameron Pratka cheer on the Ricebird football team.

El Campo fans Darren Tupa and Cameron Pratka cheer on the Ricebird football team.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

ARLINGTON - Susan Nohavitza cheered standing up during the entire state championship game Friday night.

She only stopped waving her Ricebird-red noisemaker to periodically clasp her hands over her mouth, unable to contain her anxiety over the battle playing out a few yards away on the field.

But she never sat down - not even when the El Campo football team lost the 2012 Class 3A, Division I championship game at Cowboys Stadium.

"We just fight until the end. Don't give up. Coach Gillis always says play all four quarters and that is what we do," Nohavitza said, struggling against tears.

The Ricebirds lost, 70-35, but it was not because they didn't play hard, she said.

They all did - from every player on the football team to the approximately 8,000 Ricebirds fans in the stadium.

Her son, Chance Nohavitza, started playing football in the fifth grade and worked toward this moment for most of his life.

"It took a lot of hard work and determination," Nohavitza said. "This senior class of boys, they are an awesome group of boys. They are very faithful; they are very close. They are good friends."

Back in the stands, Nohavitza and her husband, Joe Nohavitza, worked tirelessly all week to upgrade the Ricebirds' sound system upon hearing the Stephenville Yellow Jackets crowd is as fierce as the team.

"We are going to fight fire with fire," Joe Nohavitza said before the game. "We have moved up from shakers."

Which is why the couple spent the past week going to local businesses and collecting old freon cans, barrels and cowbells.

A welder, Joe Nohavitza took the old cans and filled them with ball bearings, nuts and bolts - anything that was metal against metal - before sealing them back up. He made 50 of those and passed them out to overcome the buzzing sound of the Yellow Jackets, who won their fifth state championship game Friday night.

When El Campo and area stores ran out of cowbells, volunteers went as far as Katy to look for more.

"We are just as loud as them," Susan Nohavitza said proudly during the game.

Cowboys Stadium, filled with 17,655 fans, boasted thousands of Ricebird State Championship T-shirts standing against a swarm of blue Yellow Jackets.

The Screen Stop in El Campo wanted to make sure the red shirts would be well represented, which is why Leigh Ann and Mike Johnson, owners of the shop, produced about 1,500 of the state championship T-shirts in three days.

The couple, scheduled to leave for Arlington on a fan bus at 11:45 a.m. Friday, started printing again at 5:30 a.m. that morning and barely made it on time to their bus. They didn't leave their shop until 10:39 a.m.

"We don't have kids in school anymore, but we love our Ricebirds," Leigh Ann Johnson said. "Mike gave his own shirt away this morning ... I had already locked the door and a lady came in. I looked around and I was like, 'I don't have this size.' I looked at Mike and said, 'Can I give her your shirt?' And he said go ahead."

Leigh Ann Johnson, a former Ricebird cheerleader, said El Campo is family. "Stuff like that doesn't go away. We will always be Ricebird fans," she said.

Win or lose, the game was a dream decades in the making for El Campo, which last went to a state championship game in 1967.

Susan Nohavitza said the boys learned the value of the words painted on the field house walls: desire, determination, dedication.

"They learned hard work pays off," she said. "Believe you can achieve your dream and have faith."

Full game story and more, go to AdvoSports.com

Ricebirds unable to keep up with Stephenville's Jones, click HERE



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