In a year riled in controversy and pessimism in seemingly every subject from politics, natural disasters, celebrities and even professional sports, it was hard for many to find something they could be happy about. While many looked to the national headlines for the bad news, more looked to the local ones for the good. As fans sat in the stands to cheer for the high school volleyball team as they attempted a playoff push or the football team scoring a late touchdown in what would become a crucial win to get into the postseason, everything that seems to poison once civil discussions dissipated.
It didn’t matter whether you were a Democrat or Republican, whether you believed in kneeling for the anthem or not, everyone cheered together as they witnessed the success of Sealy sports in front of them. Sports, particularly ones in our own backyard, has an incredible ability to rise above what is going on in the outside world and provide a commonality for people to rally under. So let’s take a look at the top ten sports stories this year that did that for the people of Sealy.
1. The hiring of Shane Mobley
It’s hard to discuss Sealy sports without the hiring of the man in charge of them. Shane Mobley was hired in January as Sealy ISD’s new athletic director and the high school head football coach. He was previously the head coach at Sweetwater High School where he had a 46-16 record with three playoff appearances in five years including a loss in that state title game last season.
Mobley coached the football team to a 6-5 record and their first playoff berth since 2015. The Tigers won their first playoff match against North Forest 42-28 before seeing their season come to an end against Henderson in the next round.
In his first year as head athletic director, Sealy High School has seen its football, volleyball, baseball, boys soccer, girls basketball, softball and baseball team all make the playoffs.
“This man knows how to win,” Superintendent Sheryl Moore said at the time of his hire. “He is a good man [and] somebody that is going to represent us well.”
2. Football team makes the playoffs
After missing out on the playoffs in 2016, the Sealy Tigers football team and their fans were hoping their one-year absence wouldn’t turn into a drought. The journey to the playoffs was not always straightforward to the Tigers as the team suffered from several heartbreakingly close losses and celebrated similarly close victories.
One such victory was arguably the most exciting game Sealy played all season on the road against Needville in their first district matchup of the season. After both the Blue Jays and Tigers scored a touchdown each in the first quarter, the game turned into a defensive struggle with only one more touchdown being scored.
That score came with four minutes left in the game on a run by Ivan Bolden to put the Tigers up 14-7. The Tigers would give Needville two more chances to tie the game but the defense forced two four-and-outs to close out the game.
The win proved to be a crucial one down the road as Sealy entered the final game of the regular season in a tie for the final playoff spot. After having the right set of teams win and lose, it was made official just 20 minutes after Sealy capped off their regular season with a win over West Columbia that the Tigers would be in the playoffs.
“We dreamt about this since August and this was our goal and with this district, whoever makes it out they’ll make a run for sure,” Senior receiver Justin Eckhardt said after the game. “Losing these close games all season just made us more hungry and I’m just so excited to be here right now.”
After beating North Forest 42-28, the Tigers saw their state title hopes come to an end against Henderson in a 35-14 loss. Nonetheless, Mobley said making the playoffs was the team’s goal from the start of the season and it was one they accomplished.
“We were using so much energy just trying to play catch up but that helped us realize where the mistakes were and we went in and worked on those,” Mobley said. “But we just kept saying that four teams are going to make the playoffs and why not us? We wanted just to get into the playoffs because when the postseason is a totally different animal.”
3. Football team beats rival Bellville
In the crosstown showdown that is the Sealy-Bellville rivalry, it’s been much of the same this decade. The Tigers last win against the Brahmas in football came in 2010, the same year “Toy Story 3” was the highest grossing movie, Mark Zuckerberg was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl after beating a Colts team led by Peyton Manning.
Since then Bellville has dominated the rivalry and heading into the game, the seniors knew they wanted to snap the six-game losing streak.
“Since the beginning of my high school career, I’ve always wanted this win,” senior Brennan Brandes said. “We’ve never been close to touching a team like Bellville but we came together as a family and we put a win on the board.”
What made the win even sweeter for Sealy was the blowout fashion in which it occurred with the Brahmas falling 42-17.
4. Volleyball makes the playoffs
When a new coach takes over a team, there can be periods of transition in which the team struggles and their season is turns into one that is simply written off. That was not the case with the varsity volleyball team this fall under first-year head coach Kimberly Svien.
Svien, who previously served as the assistant coach at College Station High School, coached the team to a 25-12 regular season which was enough to place the Lady Tigers third in the district and qualify for the playoffs for a sixth straight year.
The team defeated El Campo in three sets in their first playoff match but fell to Navarro in the next round in a sweep. With two sophomore, four juniors and rising junior varsity players, Svien will look to lead the Lady Tigers into the postseason for the seventh straight year next season.
5. Colton Gajewski graduates
After dominating cross country and track in the area for four years, Sealy runner Colton Gajewski graduated in May on his way to continue his athletic career for the Southern Arkansas Muleriders.
"It feels great and really good knowing I can continue doing what I love to do for another four years," Gajewski said last May. "I really like the school, it's kind of small and has a hometown feel. The people there are all so nice. I think I'm really going to enjoy it."
Gajewski has reached the state cross country meet and the state track meet during his high school years, qualifying for the 800, 1600 and 3200 for this year's state meet in Austin.
"I think it's crazy since it's the first year they're allowing you to do all three," Gajewski said. "I never thought I would advance in all three."
Gajewski’s best finish this fall at Southern Arkansas came in the SAU Louis Davis Invitational in which he finished with a 8,000-meter time of 27:50 and an 18th place finish.
6. Donor funds new turf for T.J. Mills Stadium
In late October, the Mark A. Chapman Foundation donated $1 million to the Sealy ISD to lay down a turf field at T.J. Mills Stadium. The field, which will named after Chapman, begun construction shortly after and is scheduled to be completed by February.
“We will likely never see a gift of this magnitude again in our lifetimes,” Sealy schoolboard president Ryan Reichardt said. “To help out our kids like this and really the community as a whole is just incredible.”
Superintendent Sheryl Moore said the turf also opens up numerous possibilities to host other events for the school. It also opens up the possibility of other schools around the area to come to Sealy for playoff games in the future which Moore said could have significant impacts around the town and not just the high school.
“We’re strategically located right here off I-10 so it could really have an economic boom on our community,” Moore said. “They would stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and help everyone out.”
Having turf also saves Sealy ISD money since they don’t have to pay workers overtime to care for and repaint the field, along with other tedious tasks normally associated with having a grass field.
Moore said this will allow the school to funnel that money back into the school system rather than spending it on the field. Another part of the donation the school board was happy about was the sheer size of it.
“Not a single dime of the education fund or tax dollars will be going toward this field, it’s all coming out of the donation,” Moore said.
7. Junior varsity football goes undefeated
On Nov. 9, the Sealy Tigers junior varsity football team defeated the West Columbia Roughnecks to cap off their season with a perfect 9-0 record. It was yet another undefeated season put together by the core group of players as they have not lost a game in several years.
For the team’s head coach Clark Harrell, the team’s success not only stemmed from their physical attributes but their will and camaraderie as a team.
“It’s not like you watch our bunch and you’re blown away by speed or size or strength. They just play really tough and give great effort as a group,” Harrell said. “One of the biggest parts is how close that bunch is and that’s something they do is just love each other and be close as a family.”
The team’s closest game of the season was their season opener against St. Pius X when the Tigers would rally after being down early to win the game 20-16.
Varsity coach Shane Mobley said he is looking forward to the transition of that talent from junior varsity to varsity when asked about the 2018 season.
8. Athletes sign to play at college
“I remember when I was freshman watching people sign and I always wanted to put myself in their shoes and today I got to make that happen.”
That is what Sealy High School senior Justin Eckhardt said on Nov. 16 when he officially signed to play baseball at the University of Texas. The recruiting process with the Longhorns began for Eckhardt at the beginning of his junior season of baseball and began to send the team videos of himself. Eventually they invited him out to Austin where they offered him a scholarship to be a Longhorn.
Eckhardt said it was the success of the team’s baseball program and the reputation and prestige that surrounds it that fueled his desire to go there. He will be a pitcher for Texas and said he expects to be in the rotation in his first season in spring of 2019.
Senior Rayann Rabius also signed to continue her volleyball career at the University of Houston-Baptist next fall. The big difference is Rabius is moving from volleyball on the court to playing the game in the sand.
“I haven’t played in a tournament for it before but I’ve played with my friends and thought it would be fun,” Rabius said. “So I went back on a visit and I thought about it a lot and I think I’ll really like it.”
Rabius said it was the school’s nursing program that drove her decision to commit.
Other signings included Tanner Stilts committing to play baseball at Brookhaven College.
9. Baseball wins district
Last April, The Sealy Tigers baseball team finished the regular season with a pair of run-rules wins to secure the District 25-4A title with a 7-1 district record and 18-3 overall.
The wins gave Sealy five run-rule victories over the regular season. The other run-rule wins were March 31 against Stafford (12-1), March 9 against Navarro (13-1) and Feb. 24 against Danbury (14-1).
Sealy rose to No. 12 in the latest TexasHighSchoolBaseball.com Class 4A rankings at the time. Sweeny is the only other team in the area ranked in the poll at No. 5.
The Tigers went far into the playoffs, making the regional semi-finals after beating La Grange 2-1 in a three game series. Unfortunately, the Tigers saw their season come to an end there by being swept by Robstown.
10. Boys track team wins district meet
April was also a successful month for the boys track team as they won the District 25-4A track meet with a score of 88.5. Colton Gajewski qualified for regionals in three different events. He won the 800 with a 1:58.64 and was joined at regionals by Deion'ta Caston who took third with a 2:05.74 and Nolan Treybig in fourth with a 2:07.57. Gajewski also won the 1600 with a 4:44.72.
The 4x200 relay team on the boys team won their race with a time of 1:30.96 and also saw three students qualify for regionals in the high jump as well. Clayton Fritsch won the pole vault with a 16-foot vault.
The girls team finished fourth in the meet with the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams along with four field students qualified for regionals.