Christmas came ten days early this year in Mason, Texas. The Puncher coaches, trainers, and football team gave the town an early gift of the Class 1A Division 1 State Football Championship, the first the school has won. And they did it in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, under the big lights and on television and with the world watching. On December 15 the Mason Punchers capped a pefect 15-0 season full of excitement, brotherhood, and shattered records.It was the first 1A football game ever played in Cowboys Stadium, and the score, once Mason had defeated Stamford 62-40 for a total of 102 points, made it the highest scoring Class 1A football championship ever played in Texas. It was also the highest scoring football game played in Cowboys Stadium to date.But this isn’t just about football. That’s part of it, of course, but football is only one branch on the tree of Mason ISD, the solid, living center of academic life in this community. Other branches, such as the tennis program, the basketball program, the award-winning band, the agriculture department, UIL academics, and others are noticed and praised, but those branches are held aloft by the solid trunk of Mason’s Blue Ribbon school system. And that bole is sturdy because of its many deep-reaching roots of loyalty, devotion, tradition, community spirit, civic pride, and hard work.Watching the 2011 Puncher team make history has given the town a fantastic four and a half months, but it’s done much more than that. Such success doesn’t come without a monumental investment in time, effort, and sacrifice, and it doesn’t come without huge rewards, not only for the team, but also for the student body, administration, and the entire town. The State Championship win validated the community’s belief in its students, its school, and itself.So it’s not just about football. It’s way bigger than that. The 2011 State Title win is a story that started a long time ago, and took a lot of twists and turns along the way. It’s a story about dreams and pain and setbacks and triumphs and raw blisters and overcoming. It’s a story about the past and the future. It’s a story of life.It’s about a man whose character and presence commanded respect and dedication from everyone he met, who made decisions because they were right, not because they were popular. A man who came to a school with a proud tradition already pointed on the path to future success, who spent his time straightening that path a little, and smoothing the bumps, and filling the holes, and making that future success seem a little more attainable. A man whose personality caused the young people he taught and coached to give him their best, and then a little more, not because he asked for it, but because they wanted him to have it. A man who never coached a losing football game, only some in which the clock ran out a little too soon. His teams were never beaten, and seldom outscored.Further down the road it’s about that man’s son, who would not apply for the head coaching job until he had conferred with his brother, who shares the legacy of dignity and strength their father started. A man who through inheritance received a goal to reach for, and through the luck of birth received the tools, training, and mental ability to attain that goal. A man who continues the tradition of Lombardi-like work ethics and single-mindedness his father began.It’s about a young man whose older brother set the bar for record-breaking higher than he is tall, but who broke his brother’s records anyway, and the state’s records, and the nation’s records. A boy who lost his father before he started school, and watched his brother excell despite adversity to create a family legacy through hard work, diligence, sacrifice, dedication, and more hard work.It’s about a boy who lost an arm before he started school, but refused to become handicapped. A young man who takes life as it is presented to him, not as he’d like it to be, and wins anyway. A young man who does everything any other young man does, and often does it a little better.It’s about a young man whose father decided to return to his Mason County ranching roots to raise a family of overachievers in his hometown. A young man who doesn’t have an older brother to look up to, but has an older sister so admirable and capable she puts service to country above service to self. A young man who never assumes status, but accepts every task put before him and achieves success far beyond what is expected of him. A young man who has no quit in him, short of extinction.It’s about a boy whose parents love animals and kids and those around them and, just . . . life. A young man whose parents took him to a Puncher playoff game while he was in junior high, who looked up at his dad and said, “If we moved to Mason, I could be a Puncher.” A young man whose parents thought that was a good enough reason, and moved. A young man who, through hard work and dedicated training, has become a standout player, but more important, has found a hometown in his adopted city.It’s about a young man whose father chose rodeo over football, and encouraged his son to make his own choices and be his own man, and to succeed at those choices. A young man who is always smiling, always polite, always friendly, always an encouragement, and stands out because of those attributes, even though he is surrounded by other young men who also have them in above average quantities.It’s about a young man of small physical stature who casts the shadow of a giant. A young man with the winged sandals of Hermes, the dedication of Atlas, and the heart of Achilles. A young man with no concept of fear, no recognition of limitation, no imagination of failure. A young man with glue on his fingers and an unnatural homing instinct for being in the right place at the right time, who has an inherent desire to take great risks, coupled with the quickness and stamina to reap great rewards.It’s about a young man who faced the most feared and least understood ailment known to man and refused to blink. A young man whose trust is in God, whatever that trust requires. A young man who was the anchor of the team before his illness, and continued to be the anchor through his illness. A young man whose little brother stepped in to stand beside him, take up the slack, and help him along, so they could reach their goal together.It’s about a pair of brothers who say little, who prefer to let their actions speak for them. Two young men who are completely alike and totally individual at the same time, who quietly do whatever is required of them, whether the job is wearing the crown or pulling the plow. Two young men who never doubt or falter or flag, who just never give up.It’s about two brothers who managed to remain focused on their schoolwork and athletics, who stood side by side against all opponents week after week, never letting their teammates down, even while their grandfather’s health continued to fail. Two young men who carried the load and made the big plays and took the weight on their shoulders, because they knew that’s what their grandfather would want them to do, and they would not disappoint him.It’s about a young man who was injured so badly during the playoffs that he required shoulder surgery, but refused to submit until after the final game. A young man who quietly did his job without complaining, enduring the pain, because his team needed him. A young man who still blocked and tackled and made outstanding catches with torn ligaments and tendons, and would not lose sight of the goal.It’s about all these young man and many more, who spent four and a half months of their lives without slowing down, without letting up, without allowing problems or injuries or unfair treatment in life to keep them from overcoming all obstacles. It’s about a group of young men who made a commitment months ago to endure the heat, the pain, the fatigue, and the long hours of practice to excell. It’s about guys who were willing to keep putting cleats on blistered feet, keep pulling shoulder pads on over chafed skin, keep pulling helmets down over raw foreheads, knowing those irritations wouldn’t heal until after the season. It’s about the starters, but it’s also about the guys who ate the same dust, ran the same sprints, pulled the same weight, and bore the same scars to get the team ready to play, but who hardly ever ran onto the field during a game, and did all of it anyway because they knew it was a team effort. But it’s about more than that, too.It’s about parents who gave freely of their time and money to supply whatever support was needed, when it was needed, all season long. It’s about coaches who worked and sweated and gave far more than their contracts required, watching films and building strategy and encouraging the boys along, often working eighteen or more hours a day, including weekends, because they believed in what they were doing.It’s about trainers who walked every step of the way with the team, and never received the glory, and didn’t mind. It’s about cheerleaders and band members and filmers and many others, who did their jobs even though, sometimes, no one even knew those jobs were being done.It’s about a community that shows up at every game, no matter how far, and cheers the team on, and salutes them after the games, and knows all the boys and their families, and lets them know they’re appreciated. It’s about the support of the businesses of the town, whose owners never complain when they’re tapped for much-needed funds far too often.And that support, as the Punchers found out this season, doesn’t stop at the county line. Neighboring towns, and some not so neighboring towns, went out of their way to express good wishes to the team on their way to the state final. The boys knew all along they had the backing of the Mason community, but the kindness shown by others was almost overwhelming.Facebook was full of posts from people in other places, voicing their hopes for a Mason victory. Folks from Menard and Junction and other dedicated rivals expressed, en mass, that they never thought they’d find themselves saying this, but ‘Go Punchers!’ Letters of encouragement came from Winters, Goldthwaite, and other schools to spur the team on, our traditional opponents rooting for our success.And Brady. Well. When the team pulled through Brady on its way to Dallas, it seemed half the town had assembled to wave and cheer and show their support. And it didn’t stop there. When the busses came back through late the next night, after the victory, the Brady square was once again full of folks offering congratulations, complete with ambulances and fire trucks and lights and sirens. Words are inadequate to express our appreciation for the overwhelming support of the Brady community.No, it isn’t just about football. I’m not sure any of us knows everything it’s all about. All we know is that on 15 December 2011 the Mason Punchers finally won the school’s first state football championship, and that can never happen again. The school may win many more, but there can only be one first.On Wednesday I asked Coach Kade Burns what he thought was the last thing his dad would have said to him before the game. He said, “Have fun. That’s what he’d tell me.”After the game was over I asked his older brother, Kevin, head coach at Bronte, the same question. Kevin thought for a moment and said, “Just do what you do best. He’d say, ‘The things that were important when you started two-a-days in August are the things that are important now.’”They were both right.