Community pep rally raises morale
Aransas Pass Independent School District campuses have not yet opened for classes and many businesses also are still closed, but in a show of unity, the Aransas Pass Chamber of Commerce hosted a Community Pep Rally last week at the Aransas Pass High School Football Stadium.
As visitors gathered in the stadium, trucks were providing free food to the community. Representatives from the City, school district and Chamber were on hand to provide words of encouragement. A community prayer was led by Donald Volz, and Chamber board president Bill Denton served as master of ceremonies.
Denton asked residents to give themselves a round of applause, and noted, “It was great to see neighbors helping neighbors, and friends helping friends, but it was even more impressive to see strangers helping strangers. Let’s try to keep that up as we continue to move forward and to see healing and restoration and recovery in our community.
Luis Buentello from Congressman Blake Fahrenthold office’s read a statement from the U.S. Representative in which he said after a disaster, often TV news cameras will search for the worst damage to make a dramatic story. “In the case of hurricane Harvey, in the district I represent, you can drop a camera almost anywhere.” He said homes were completely flattened, businesses destroyed, and much of towns were under water with unprecedented flooding. He said in one, a town mayor lost everything, and was walking around the emergency operation center in shorts and flip flops - all that he had left. Buentello read, “The good news is our community and the whole country came together in this disaster. Groups from throughout he country donated help and assisted with rescue and cleanup.” He said they came and cooked food, but FEMA help is still need to clear brush and debris, and for major infrastructure repairs. He concluded, “It will take time, but with hard work, love and dedication, Aransas Pass will come out stronger and better. We are not only Texas Strong, we are American strong.”
Aransas Pass Chief Eric Blanchard spoke on behalf of AP Mayor Ram Gomez and the council. He said initially after the hurricane, he felt an, extreme sense of hopeless when he drove around to see all the devastation. However, within hours it completely turned around and there was a great transformation, as public safety officials, officers, firefighters, and city employees got to work.
He also referred to the Aransas Pass varsity Panthers and their come-from-behind win in their first game of the season. He said, “How inspirational was that? It’s like our community, Hurricane Harvey through Taft knocked them down, but in the fourth quarter, they stood up, and showed huge resilience.” He said the community also is going to stand up and show the Coastal Bend how a community is supposed to respond to Hurricane Harvey.
Denton thanked HEB for the donation of 300 Aransas Pass Strong shirts, adding everyone knows what HEB did throughout the Coastal Bend after the hurricane, “working to get stores open, working to get ice, food, and everything back on track for us.”
He introduced AP Unit Director Martin Salazar who pointed out after the hurricane, the company opened 30 stores within three days. He called it an incredible transformation, pointing out there are many people behind the scenes who make it happen. He said he works for a beautiful company, adding, “It’s great to be in Aransas Pass, thank you for shopping with us, thank you for your continued support.” He concluded, “It’s been a journey, and an incredible four weeks. We’re here for the long haul, come see us.”
Denton then talked about the opportunity to give special recognition, adding, “No words seem adequate to express our admiration and our gratitude for the brave men and brave women who have run toward danger selflessly to save and protect our lives and restore our basic necessities.” He added, “Tonight we want to acknowledge all first responders, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel, military personnel here handing out food, keeping us safe and secure, and of course we couldn’t have turned the lights back on and been where we are today without AEP and without subcontractors from across our great nation who restored the lines to get our power back on.” The audience erupted in applause as the name AEP was announced.
Blanchard pointed out Denton and the staff opened up a bay at the Allen Samuels facility, to allow for storage of donations and supplies, with help from the AP Chamber of Commerce, while at the same time gutting the business to make repairs.
Denton asked everyone present to hold up their right hands to say a big thank you to all those first responders adding, “God Bless every one of them, God Bless you all.” He said, “Keep in mind, we did this together. It didn’t matter who we are, where we are from, or where we go to school. It started hours after the storm, continues today and will continue tomorrow.”
He then handed over the microphone to Wanese Butler of the Aransas Pass Athletic Booster Club, to lead the pep rally.
She began by introducing superintendent Mark Kemp who said, “I’m glad to be here, thank the Lord. When I rolled in here a day after the storm, I was dejected.” He said lots of people were asking when school would open, and he explained, “I want to have school too, I love my children, students, athletes, I love it all.”
He said just like everyone came together tonight to celebrate, “We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.” He said they are hopeful for an Oct. 16 first day of school for all campuses except A.C. Blunt, which sustained the most damage. They believe Charlie Marshall Elementary will be the first to open hopefully in 10 days.
Kemp said, “I am asking you to stand strong with the district we as get through these troubled times. I guarantee you teachers are ready to go back; students are ready to go back. That’s exactly what we want to hear, bear with us, we’ll get there and get there together, I love this community.”
School board president Veronica Johnson spoke next and noted, “It’s been really tough. When I came home and saw the devastation, I knew it would be an uphill battle.” She said of the 1,650 students and 300 staff members who are ready to get back into the classroom are going to be the winners.
“We’re getting there. We are so proud of our community, you are the honorees,” said Johnson. She thanked the city for its help throughout the process, concluding with, “We are Panther strong, AP strong, community strong.”
Athletic director/head football coach Ryan Knostman explained if wasn’t for the school board, and the administration’s leadership, AP teams would not be able to be on the field and on the court to practice. He said Friday’s game against Santa Rosa would be in Sinton because the fields are not ready, but said, “We will be at home, sitting on the Sinton home side. I want everyone to come out and cheer us on in our first home game, because for everything y’all have been through and these kids have been through, that’s what it means =, we’re going to play for y’all giving everything we’ve got to make you proud.”
He said, “Santa Rosa doesn’t know what’s coming. We handled Harvey and we’re going to handle Santa Rosa.”
Butler recognized the coaches’ wives as well as the teachers who helped provide meals for the athletes. She said after coach got clearance for the weight room, the athletes began workouts. After that, they formed teams with the coaches and got out in the community to help clear debris, cutting limbs for the community, hauling trash, etc.
Butler said they did so, “Because we are in this together.” She added, “Things may feel different, things may look different, but we are going to have a better normal, a better AP, thanks to everybody, together we are rebuilding, getting stronger, endure this, and overcoming.”
The cheerleaders performed, then led the audience in the fight song and alma mater. AP Strong t-shirts were handed out at the end of the rally.