After a semi truck crashed into a bus carrying the Iraan High School cheerleading team on I-20, killing a cheerleading sponsor and injuring all seven of the other people on the bus, schools across West Texas have pitched in to extend their support to Iraan-Sheffield ISD.
The Slaton ISD Tigers explained to EverythingLubbock.com Tuesday that they feel a special duty to stand in support of the Iraan Braves. Tuesday, the entire high school as well as the middle school and high school cheerleading teams recorded a video clip for Iraan High School. That video clip will be combined with videos from other schools across Texas and shown at the Iraan pep rally before their playoff football game Friday. Slaton students also raised funds for Iraan-Sheffield School District by paying a dollar to wear a hat on campus Tuesday and purchasing T-shirts to support the Iraan community. Additionally, Slaton High School will send flowers to Iraan.
Though Slaton is about 200 miles from Iraan, the Slaton tigers say they feel connected to the Iraan-Sheffield Braves for a number of reasons.
“Because that’s the right thing to do, is just to help people,” said Slaton Varsity cheerleader, Alyssa Ybarra. “We always need to help people, if we don’t know them, no matter how far we are from them, we just always need to help people. [Iraan] helped us whenever we were going through our situation last year so we need to give them that in return.”
In the fall of 2015, Slaton football player Xavier Ramirez suffered cardiac arrest on the football field due to a rare heart defect. While Ramirez received medical care and surgery, schools around Texas lit up their stadium lights to show support for Xavier and sent in donations to Slaton ISD. This past fall a student in the Slaton marching band, Isaac Dabila, suffered cardiac arrest at a football game because of a similar heart problem. The support from other Texas schools continued to Slaton ISD during Dabila’s recovery as well.
“Iraan, they ordered T-shirts from us last year –tons of T-shirts supporting our student athlete– they just showed us tremendous support and we gotta pay it back, we gotta pay it forward,” said James Villanueva, a teacher and cheerleading coach at Slaton High School.
He explained that the cheerleading community in Texas is tight-knit. Villanueva added that many of the cheerleading coaches and sponsors attend camp together and feel a sense of camaraderie.
It was the cheerleaders at Slaton ISD who sparked their district’s efforts to help Iraan, Villanueva said. He explained that the cheerleaders came together as they grappled with the news of the accident involving the Iraan-Sheffield bus.
Slaton cheerleader Malory Cofield said hearing about the accident on I-20 was especially shocking for her knowing that her cheer team also spends a good deal of time traveling on the road
“It’s scary,” Cofield said. “And to think you may never go home to your family one day is scary too.”
For Cofield, being a cheerleader means taking initiative to lift other people’s spirits in times of need.
“So we just try to help as much as possible,” Cofield said. “Because we know how it feels to be in that hard time and to know that people care about you. It’s a nice feeling.”
Villanueva agreed though while the hardships they’ve had to cope with are different, the Slaton Tigers feel an especially personal connection to the Iraan-Sheffield ISD community.
“I think we have been there and we have felt that pain and we know what it’s like to get that support and to know that you will get through this,” Villanueva said. “You’ll never be same, but you will get through this and you’ll be stronger because of it.”
Slaton isn’t the only school district supporting Iraan, Villanueva said he knew of several other schools on the South Plains sending in videos.
Olton ISD’s superintendent Bub McIver confirmed Tuesday that their students and staff were asked to wear red and black to show solidarity with Iraan.
While the cheerleaders at Iraan High School are recovering, their football team is still participating in the semifinal playoffs on Friday in Abilene. An estimated 50 schools are expected to send their cheerleading programs to stand alongside the Iraan cheerleading squad during that game, including cheer teams from the Lubbock area like Ralls ISD and Lubbock Cooper ISD.