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There were some wonderful academic courses at Permian. They were taught by teachers who worked endlessly to encourage and inspire their students. But it was hard for these teachers not to feel discouraged sometimes. "The Bible says, where your treasure is, that's where your heart is also," said LaRue Moore, the chairman of the English department. To prove the point, she pointed to the school budget.
For boys' medical supplies, such as athletic tape, Permian spent $6,750 a year. For teaching materials for the English department, which included just about everything except required textbooks, it spent only $5,040. And for rush-order film prints of Permian football games for the coaches, it spent $6,400.
Moore didn't mind the school's emphasis on football. She had grown up in West Texas, and it was obvious to her that high school football could galvanize a community and keep it together. "The thing is, I don't think we should have to go to the booster club to get books," she said. "I don't think we should have to beg everyone in town for teaching materials."
During Boobie's absence from the starting backfield, a junior named Chris Comer was called up to the varsity to play fullback. Like Boobie, Comer was black. Like Boobie, he was from the Southside. Like Boobie, he was living not with his natural parents but with a relative, his grandmother. In the previous school year, Comer had been ineligible for spring practice because of Texas's no-pass, no-play rule, and he didn't inspire much confidence among the Permian coaches.
But their reservations largely disappeared in the opening game against El Paso Austin. On Comer's fourth carry of the season, he took the ball at the 50, waited behind the line for a split second until a tiny alleyway developed, turned the corner, accelerated past two defenders and dashed down the sideline for a touchdown. Comer gained 116 yards in all as the Panthers won 49-0. In the next game, against a Marshall team that was ranked third in the state, he gained 132 yards, though Permian lost 13-12. The game after that, he gained 128 and Permian won 35-14. The Permian staff extolled his virtues and worried less and less about how Boobie was recovering from his arthroscopic surgery.
"In a week or two the fans will think Boobie already graduated," said the Permian trainer, Tim (Trapper) O'Connell.
When the fourth game of the season took place, against Odessa High, Boobie was still in street clothes. The game was an epic grudge match between the town's two high schools, and more than 15,000 fans filled Ratliff Stadium. But Boobie, who had looked forward to this game for a year, felt nothing. "Nah, I'm not that excited," he said, and looked on impassively as the team moved effortlessly ahead without him, winning 35-7.
The following week Boobie came back to practice and the shame of a white practice jersey (only the starters wore black, and Comer was the starter at fullback now). He did not play in Permian's next game, a 42-0 win over Midland High.
But the following week, when it became clear he was going to get a chance to play, Boobie's mood brightened.
That Friday night, against the Abilene High Eagles, he watched from the sideline as Comer scored the first two touchdowns of the game, one on a three-yard run and the other on an 88-yard play in which Comer broke up the middle on a trap and outran everyone else to the goal line. Boobie stood behind the other players glassy-eyed, his hands clasped.