ARLINGTON – Among a sea of green, Suzanne Banda stood up from her seat and shook a green bottle in each hand, the contents rocking about loudly.
“Go! Go! Go!” Suzanne, 51, yelled.
Though she was sitting with about 20 of her relatives, the hundreds of Gobblers fans who sat around Suzanne could be considered her extended family. The same could be said about the Cuero football team for her son, Zachary Banda, a senior on the team.
“This is a family – football keeps everyone connected,” Suzanne said.
The Banda family has had its low and high points within the past couple of years, and football has helped heal the family. The Cuero Gobblers clinched their first state championship since 1987 on Friday at AT&T Stadium against the Pleasant Grove Hawks.
A fan who was missing from the game was her husband, Samuel Banda. He died in January 2017 but for years had planned to be at the state final game, said Brianna Banda, Suzanne’s daughter.
“He had said, years ago, that he was going to take time off to go to the state game. That’s a big deal because he never took time off (from work),” Brianna, 21, said. “He said that this group would be the ones to bring us back to state.”
Their father was a serious football fan, she said. He’d offer words of encouragement to Zachary and hype him for the games. When Samuel died, the football team rallied around Zachary, Brianna said.
“The team was another family for him. When we told him that everything’s going to be OK, they were there for him, too, motivating him to play for Dad,” she said.
The family hit another roadblock when Zachary was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart condition characterized by irregular or rapid heartbeat, his junior year. Following doctor’s orders, Zachary had to sit out the end of last year’s football season.
Suzanne said her son was more than ready to hit the field this year, but just a few weeks in, Zachary found himself sitting out again after his fibula was broken during a game against Yoakum.
“It was hard to see him go through so much. There’s almost nothing you can do but help him get better and support him,” Suzanne said. “He keeps going through these hurdles, but he keeps bouncing back.”
Through the low points, though, the team, coaches and other parents helped the Banda family, Suzanne said. The team was there for the family at Samuel’s funeral, and the coaches helped keep Zachary motivated and optimistic.
“Without the football team, I don’t think Zachary would be where he is today because of the friendship of those on the team,” Brianna said.
Though his father couldn’t see Zachary bring home a state title, a part of his father’s legacy was on the field, too. Zachary changed his number to No. 74 this year, which was his father’s number when he played football in high school, Suzanne said.
Their dad would have been proud to see Zachary and his team play for the state championship, Brianna said.
“Both teams were exceptional, but at the end, it came down to which team wanted it more,” she said. “This was a well-deserved victory for our boys and the town of Cuero.”
The Bandas also feature in our video coverage from the state championship: