FCA Victory Bowl all-star games deliver return of high school sports
Although the atmosphere surrounding the 12th Annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Victory Bowl festivities and events did not feel quite the same, the spirit of the various all-star games took on a meaning never present before.
After a three-month absence of Texas high school sports due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, graduated seniors from over 100 high schools in 12 counties from the Heart of Texas area returned to the court and fields for the love of the games.
Once the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) suspended all UIL-sanctioned contests, effective March 16 through March 29. Then when Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed a public health disaster in Texas for the first time in more than 100 years March 19, the UIL extended its suspension of all UIL-sanctioned activities before cancelling all remaining Spring competitions April 17 due to the pandemic.
This year, the Victory Bowl brought together 92 football players, 24 volleyball players, 20 cheerleaders, 36 baseball players, 30 softball players, 75 band members and 30 area head coaches. And most of them, including 63 athletes in The Sports Buzz coverage area, were thrilled to come out of isolation and return to action.
Whether or not the event would take place at all remained in doubt until the 11th hour. In the past, the FCA Victory Bowl included a week of practices for each team along with service projects in the community and fellowship activities. Despite being forced to alter its plans, the FCA decided to go on with the games.
“At the end of the day, we still gathered allowing these kids a chance to do what they love to do, which is participate in their sport,” Heart of Texas FCA director Ben Johnson said. “In talking about it, we just felt like this was the best way to go.”
With Abbott’s guidelines prohibiting any youth sports games until June 15, no fans were allowed in the venues. But the games were video streamed on the www.heartoftexasfca.org website, beginning with the FCA Victory Bowl softball game Thursday afternoon, June 4 at Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Dee Dillon Field in Belton, followed by the baseball game Friday afternoon at Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Red Murff Field in Belton. The FCA Victory Bowl week continued with the volleyball match Saturday afternoon at the Vanguard College Prep gymnasium.
Although the annual Blue-Red football game typically serves as the showcase event culminating FCA Victory Bowl week, the game was cancelled due health risks related to the number of people involved in the contest. But the FCA provided a social media rollout of a taped simulated Victory Bowl football game Saturday evening on the website instead.
The unique event featured the Victory Bowl blue and red players as avatars in a computer simulation of the popular “Madden 2020” video game with the blue roster fed into the game on the Dallas Cowboys team and the red players placed on the Houston Texans. The simulated game action was taped along with broadcast commentary from the FCA’s Ben Johnson and former Waco High coach Johnny Tusa.
With the softball all-star game opening the live action, the Blue and Red high school senior athletes circles around the infield demonstrating social distancing as they gathered get for some fun, fellowship and friendly competition.
As pitchers Makenzie Dunbar of Crawford and Kenzie Seely of Whitney combined to blank the Blue squad through six innings, the Red team erupted for a four-run third inning on their way to a 5-2 victory.
In Friday’s baseball team, Clifton’s Mason Brandenberger delivered an all-star performance as the Red team rallied for an 8-4 win over the Blue squad. Coming out of the shutdown, Brandenberger wanted to make the most of the opportunity before moving on to play baseball at Temple College.
“I never realized how much I missed baseball until I stepped on the field for the first time in three months,” Brandenberger said. “It was something that made me realize how special it was to be able to play the game of baseball one last time as a high schooler.
“I’ve been practicing just about every day preparing for the game, and also preparing for baseball at Temple College next year. Even with practicing, it still was different actually playing a live game and seeing live pitching for the first time in awhile. It definitely made the game a pitcher-friendly game.”
With that said, Brandenberger capitalized on the advantage. Starting on the mound for the Red team, the lefthander worked his way out of first inning trouble with a rare four-strikeout inning.
But the Clifton Cub all-starter wasn’t done yet. With the Red team trailing 4-3 after two innings, Brandenberger’s triple into the gap in right center drove in two runs for the game-winning hit.
“Going into the game, I knew it was going to be tough to be able to see the ball well after not getting to see live pitching for so long,” Brandenberger said. “So when I was able to hit that triple and see the ball as well as I did, it kinda became a blur. Our team never looked back after that.”
With the Red team holding a three-run lead, Moody’s Cody Stone, Grandview’s Colby Diduch, Avalon’s Dillon Martin and Abbott’s Matthew Pevehouse combined to shut out the Blues through the final five frames.
“When the pandemic cut our senior year short, all I had to look forward to was the FCA game,” Brandenberger said. “It was the last time you get to play as a high school athlete. Four years of playing baseball for Clifton high school all came down to the FCA bowl game.
“While playing in the game, I was just soaking it all in because I knew I would never be able to do that again as a high schooler. It was such a great opportunity to play in the FCA bowl game for one last game, and it is definitely something I will never forget.”
With the Red teams leading the Victory Bowl week with a 2-0 record, the remaining two games became wildly competitive and exciting, while being dramatically different.
Playing at Vanguard College Preparatory School in Waco, the Red volleyball squad survived an inspired comeback by the Blue team to capture a 26-24, 25-21, 24-26, 18-25, 15-12 victory in the first five-set match in the seven-year history of the Victory Bowl volleyball all-star game Saturday afternoon.
Standouts included Crawford’s Anne Williams, who led the Lady Pirates to back-to-back state championships, with a double-double, delivering 13 kills and providing 10 digs for the Red team, while Blum’s Emma Rodriguez with a team-high 14 digs and Whitney’s Delaney Woodall with a double-double of 12 digs and 13 assists led the Blue squad.
Then it all came down to the 12th annual Victory Bowl football game Saturday night, even if it had to be played virtually. Opening with a National Anthem performance from Crawford student Lanie Elmore, the Red team completed the clean sweep by defeating the Blue, 23-20, in the simulated game. Crawford’s Tate Abel hauled in a 94-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter for the game-winner.
Despite major overhauls since the COVID-19 outbreak brought the sports world to a screeching halt in March, the Victory Bowl events, organized by and benefit the Heart of Texas Fellowship of Christian Athletes, once again proved to be a success, especially for the participating players. To watch the softball, baseball, volleyball and football games, visit http://www.heartoftexasfca.org.
Student-athletes representing the Heart of Texas were:
Blue Team football players included Caleb Ince of Cranfills Gap, Zade Kendall of Meridian, Darius Williams of Mount Calm, Dalton Martin and Javieon Simmons of Valley Mills, and Vance Trotter of Walnut Springs, facing Red Team players Dakota Price of Aquilla, Justin Ketcher of Axtell, Nathan Quattlebaum of Bruceville-Eddy, Dakota Mynarcik of Bynum, Coley Davis of Clifton, Giovanni Mendez of Covington, Jed Whitney of Crawford, Cade Kneuper of Hamilton, Ryan Irvin of Hico, Logan Morris of Hubbard, JaVonn Reed of Itasca, Tonny Sanchez-Yanez, Kyler Martin and Chris Bledsoe of Mart, Michael Ramos of McGregor, Isael Uribe of Oglesby, Donavon Blakes of Riesel, Juan Saucedo, Devin Wilson and Shawntay Owens of Whitney.
Playing in the volleyball game, Blue Team representatives included Emma Rodriguez of Blum, Alexis Garner of Bosqueville, and Taylor Fouts of Valley Mills playing against Red Team members Rachel Kallus of Abbott, Ana Maddox, Anne Williams and Peyton Elmore of Crawford, and Delaney Woodell of Whitney.
Taking the baseball diamond were Blue Team players Will McClellan of Bosqueville, Matt Rosas of Meridian and Cory McNai of Valley Mills taking on Red Team members Matthew Pevehouse of Abbott, Dylan Vardeman of Blum, Mason Brandenberger of Clifton, Colby Diduch of Grandview, Chance Hasse of Hubbard, Jhobe Smith of McGregor, Cody Stone of Moody, Lane Kemp of Riesel, and Jack Hamilton of West.
Ladies playing softball were Blue Team player Jessica Johnson of Valley Mills, along with Red squad members Kenna Mynar of Abbott, Audrey Anderson of Clifton, Makey Dunbar of Crawford, Madison Knox of McGregor, Ellena Munoz of Moody, Jacie Ehlers of Riesel, Audry Holloman and Jordyne Reese of West, and Kenzie Seely of Whitney.
The cheer squad representatives included Blue Cheer members Vianey Lujan of Cranfills Gap and Madisyn Hicks of Meridian, as well as Red Cheer members Sutton Finney of Clifton, Baylee Casillas of Covington, Kelsey Compton of Crawford, Jaydyn Gillham of Hubbard, Abby Killian and Lainey Hale of Hamilton.
Heart of Texas coaches participating in the 2020 Victory Bowl games were Blue Team football coach Sam Moody of Valley Mills, and Red Team coaches Delbert Kelm of Crawford, Jarrett Shipp of Gholson, Charles Steele of Covington, and Josh Conner of Bynum; Blue Team volleyball coach Steve Hogan of Valley Mills and Red Team coach Hadley Joiner of Bruceville-Eddy; Red Team baseball coaches Kyle Crawford of Abbott, Randy Smith of Crawford, and Cody Brown of Axtell; Red Team softball coach Jessie Thompson of Hamilton; Blue Team cheer coach Patricia Leach of Hamilton and Red Team cheer coaches Tammy Bush of Riesel and Patricia Leach of Hamilton.
The Victory Bowl began in 2009 as an FCA fundraiser and outreach event. It included a football game for the first five years before expanding to include volleyball in 2014 and baseball and softball in 2016. Johnson estimated that more than 3,000 students from around Central Texas have participated in the Victory Bowl over its 11-year existence, including the athletes, cheerleaders and band members.
Photos courtesy of FCA VICTORY BOWL & WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD
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