WESLACO — The only thing more synonymous than Texas football and Thanksgiving Day is freshed back turkey. The Weslaco High Panthers and Weslaco East Wildcats will get a taste of all three Thursday, however, as the two teams prepare for return trips to the third round of the playoffs and celebrate as one Weslaco family.
“This is what you dream of when you’re a little kid. In our coaches’ meeting we were talking about this going to watch the UT and A&M game or the Cowboys and the Lions game on Thanksgiving and you’re out there playing football in the front lawn. This is what we’re doing and now we’re doing it with pads,” Weslaco High head coach Roy Stroman said. “Before we leave, we’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving at the 50-yard line. We told the kids before the McAllen Memorial game, ‘If we win this ballgame, I promise you we will have some turkey at the 50-yard line.’ We’re going to put some tables out there and spend Thanksgiving here and we’re going to enjoy it.”
Weslaco East will also enjoy a holiday team meal before both the Panthers and Wildcats depart for San Antonio’s Alamo Stadium, where they will share a big stage Friday. Weslaco High will kick the day off against the Lake Travis Cavaliers at 1 p.m. and Weslaco East will take the field for an encore performance against the Austin Westlake Chapparals.
“I want everybody to know that both these teams in Weslaco, we get along really well. Coach Stroman has done a great job over there and we talk all the time,” Weslaco East head coach Mike Burget said. “We’re playing at the same stadium on the same day for a reason. Coach Stroman and myself got together and we wanted the community to watch two good football teams go up there and battle with some of the best.”
Weslaco football fans have long enjoyed a well-established Texas Thanksgiving football tradition that’s featured the Cowboys, Aggies and Longhorns and grown in recent years to include the Panthers and Wildcats too.
This season marks the second consecutive that Weslaco High has advanced to the regional semifinals, while Weslaco East will be playing in the third round for the sixth time in 10 years.
“It’s very cool in my opinion. Not too many school districts can say that both their teams are in the third round, or even the playoffs for that matter,” Panthers running back Peyton Knaub. “It’s cool and it’s a good feeling. We’re going to root them on and we’re sure they’re going to root us on, too.”
It’s a rare feat that’s helped set Weslaco apart as the premier football town in the Rio Grande Valley.
“No one here but Weslaco can say that their two schools have made it to the third round of the playoffs back to back,” Weslaco High defensive end Elijah Estevenes said. “Both East and High are very talented schools. They’re very competitive, they’re going to keep working, we’re going to keep working and then we’re going to show what two goo Valley teams are made of.”
But far from being just a feather in the cap for two schools, the Panthers and Wildcats accomplishments are reflective of the hard work and buy-in of the entire Weslaco community.
“This community is like no other. From the little leagues to the pee wee football leagues that we have here, it’s part of them as well. They’re the ones who started with the foundation… this is a whole team effort,” Stroman said. “Our athletic director has done a tremendous job of getting us what we need in order to be in situations like this. We’re very fortunate and very blessed to be in a community and a school district that’s very supportive of athletics.”
The buzz has continued to grow from week to week as the Panthers and Wildcats have each continued to advance throughout the playoffs. Now with both teams playing for their first ever trip to the regional finals, they can feel the support of community rallying behind them.
“I hear it when I walk around the town. ‘Coach go get ‘em! Coach great job!’” Burget said. “I want the people to know that you can’t always win, and it should be a great job win or loss. I’m so happy for most of the people who are very positive, especially the parents.”
Despite being major rivals during the same, Weslaco High and Weslaco East march into the holiday weekend’s action as one Weslaco team. The Panthers and Wildcats are pulling for one another in hopes of showing the state what their town is all about.
“We wish them luck,” Wildcats linebacker Gio Barrera said. “Hopefully they get their job, and we’ll come in later at 7 p.m. and hopefully show out for Weslaco. Hopefully they have a good game, also.”
“There were people not even from our community who came to the game last week,” Knaub said. “It’s good knowing that when the Valley makes it far in the playoffs, everyone just rallies around each other.”
Weslaco ISD and the two schools carefully coordinated with one another as well as their third round opponents. They wanted to make sure Weslaco High and East were playing on the same day in the same building to bring the community together as one.
“It’s purple and black right now. It’s one Weslaco. Ticket sales are through the roof right now and unfortunately we wish we could have brought this game over to the Rio Grande Valley, but one thing we always have is great community backing and support, and it’s been full from our student body to all our fans,” Stroman said. “I’m pretty sure Coach Burget would say the same thing, but athletics and two football teams have pretty much united a community that was pretty much separated. We’re doing this through athletics and this is great and it’s because of two teams that have been working hard. It’s great to be a part of WISD right now.”