Just about every week someone sidles up to Sandy Brown and Lester Ward and asks what it's like to coach at a state school. The question is a polite way of asking what it's like to coach a bunch of convicts. "I have broken practically every commandment that ever was," Brown said one time in response. "I used to think if I walked in a church the roof would cave in. We all deserve a second chance in life. These boys are going to be out in society again whether we like it or not. Don't you think we'd better get them ready?"
Public schools in Texas have come calling on both Brown and Ward with offers to coach "normal kids" and to run programs with big budgets and big fan support. While both men have enjoyed the recognition, neither plans to leave. "There's great personal satisfaction in working at Giddings," Ward says. "You are given the chance to help change lives, and it's wonderful when that happens. Ninety-nine percent of what we do is about self-esteem."
Years ago Ward was a defensive end in college, and he wears a ring commemorating the 1980 season, in which Baylor, his alma mater, won the Southwest Conference championship. As each new crop of boys comes through the Giddings athletic program, Ward answers a new crop of questions about the ring. "If you want it bad enough, you can have one too," he says.
But even as he's encouraging the boys, Ward says, he's mindful of where they come from. "Every kid will attach himself to a disciplinary figure," he says. "But to most of these boys the disciplinary figure was the person who beat them in the past. He's the daddy who abused them, and the uncle who failed to step in when some man was slapping their mother around. Me and Coach Brown are in a difficult situation. It's not like at the public schools, where you'd think nothing of horsing around with a kid. In our job, I'm sad to say, you're better off not touching them."
It's a terrible knowledge, both Ward and Brown admit, and it makes for terrible situations, such as the incident last year when a Giddings football player injured his neck during a game against St. Michael's of Austin. The coaches immediately ran out onto the field to help the boy, who complained of being unable to feel anything from his chest down. Because no emergency unit was on hand, St. Michael's officials had to call for one. Brown and Ward directed their other players to the end zone and ordered them to kneel under the goalpost and pray for their injured teammate. In the meantime, Giddings staff members covering the game streamed down from the bleachers to check on the injured player.
More than half an hour passed before the EMS unit arrived, and by then the injured boy was able to move his limbs; apparently he'd suffered nothing more than a stinger. To make sure it wasn't more serious, however, school officials decided to have the boy examined at a nearby hospital. David Walenta, director of the sex-offender treatment program at Giddings, volunteered to accompany the boy to the emergency room. But first, he says, he handcuffed the player to the gurney. "You know this has to be done, don't you?" Walenta asked as he fit the boy's wrist into a cuff and locked it to the bed frame. The boy nodded.
"You know I wouldn't be doing this if it didn't have to be done, don't you?" asked Walenta, who could feel tears coming to his eyes. Once again the boy responded only with a nod.
"Handcuffed, they put that child on a stretcher and into a van," recalls Wooten, the psychologist. "Now everything in a person that cares about his fellow man says, This is someone who's hurt, don't injure him more or put him in greater jeopardy than he's already in. Yet this had to be done. And this boy—who only a moment earlier had thought he was paralyzed, and who'd lain there in his football uniform on that cold, wet field without any family to comfort him—this boy made not one gesture against us. He showed only dignity. It's sad. These boys don't even have the privilege to suffer like other kids."
The Indians, down by two touchdowns to Trinity Christian at halftime, form a line and march across the field to a bathroom under Tom Landry Stadium. "One at a time, and don't talk to anyone," Brown tells them.
As Matuzek waits his turn, a young boy asks him for an autograph, but before he signs, he seeks out Smith for permission. "Sure, Chris," she says. "Go ahead."