Grapevine High School isn’t just playing its 2019 home opener Thursday night. The Mustangs are playing their first home game since 2017, opening the new Mustang-Panther Stadium after a year of construction delays.
The preparations have been non-stop for both football coach Mike Alexander and the Grapevine Football Booster Club and president Chuck Cunningham. In the build-up to the game – and to the 100th season of Grapevine football – Alexander said he’s created what amounts to a huge job for the club president.
“There hasn’t been a week go by where he hasn’t done something out of the ordinary for our program and our student-athletes," Alexander said. "He and the club are always making sure that our kids have everything they need to be successful.”
The Grapevine football boosters work overtime to raise money to keep the program on even footing with some of their district and regional rivals. That means raising upwards of $225,000 each year.
“We all have children involved in the program,” Cunningham said of the boosters who work tirelessly. “All summer long we were working hard. The club has 200 members in it, and upwards of two-thirds have volunteered in at least one capacity. It says that people are confident that their sons are being coached by men of character and people they trust. There is already a lot of excitement.”
The bulk of the funding gets spent on player safety. The mission is to make sure as many players as possible have the most modern equipment.
“Safety has always been our parents’ concern, and coach as well,” Cunningham said. “He was one of the first coaches to embrace Heads-Up Tackling. We are asking our kids to do things where they can get injured and change part of their life. We have better technology and safer equipment, but the problem has been getting access to it because it’s expensive. Our club has chosen to really focus on that for these young men.”
Over the last two seasons, the booster club has been successful enough through season sponsorships and donations to purchase 60 new helmets each year, 15 state-of-the-art knee braces to protect offensive linemen from ACL injuries, 30 sets of new shoulder pads for the freshmen players and 30 soft-shell helmets to be worn during 7-on-7 or practices where the players aren’t in pads.
“Those bounce-back concussions are much more prevalent, and these will help prevent that,” Cunningham said.
The other main focus has been opening the new stadium, another special aspect of the 100th team to play Grapevine football. Through the booster club’s game program, Cunningham started an initiative to embrace some of the school’s older – and sometimes forgotten – traditions while reaching out to key community elements as well.
Last May, Grapevine Mayor William Tate – who played football at the school in 1958-59 – proclaimed May 24 as Grapevine Football Day honoring the 100th team. As he talked about his experience in the program, he spoke of his father, also a Grapevine football player.
“His father played on team number 1,” Cunningham said. “The mayor told stories about his teammates and his coaches. The city is excited about the stadium and this team.”
Grapevine’s team is excited to officially take the first snaps in the stadium, and Cunningham said one old tradition will make it’s re-emergence for the opener.
“This is something that stopped a few years ago, but the players are going to walk into the stadium and enter the field through the stands,” Cunningham said. “The players will be walking hand-in-hand, probably 5 or 6 people across.”
Cunningham recalled what a former rival told him when he used to see the Grapevine team enter the stadium that way.
“Ryan Young, he’s a Colleyville Heritage parent who used to play for both Colleyville and the [Dallas] Cowboys, told me ‘I knew we were in trouble when you walked in hand-in-hand,’” he said. “We aren’t all the same, but we are all together. The sooner we become a family, the sooner we reach our potential.”
It’s something he can’t wait for the community to see.
“It means something to represent Grapevine,” he said. “It’s a neat town with a lot of history, and I know we are all really excited to be a part of Grapevine’s history.”