Head down I-45 and exit 517 and you will find a city that has held a special place in my heart for nine years now, Dickinson, Texas.  I was first introduced to Dickinson Texas by a school counselor name Mrs. Gram who was based at McWhirter Elementary in Clear Creek ISD in Webster, Texas. I went and spoke to her third and fourth grade students and she introduced me to all the schools in the area both in Dickinson ISD and Clear Creek ISD and I fell in love with these students.

My first trip to a Dickinson ISD school was K.E. Little and I was introduced to the Gators.

For those of you outside of Dickinson, all the schools are the Gators. You are truly a Gator for life.

K.E. Little is an Elementary school with some of the sweetest kids and most amazing teachers I have seen. I have spent that last years making that drive down to Dickinson and Webster and League City and Clear Lake, my family down 45.

When Hurricane Harvey hit I started to reach out to the counselors and teachers I knew in the area to make sure they were ok. One by one they checked in and when I saw the devastation of a City that had welcomed me with open arms, my heart broke.

I made my first trip to Dickinson to drop off school supplies from a check from sister’s foundation sent the moment the roads were open.  When I exited 517 it was like I was in a different world. I drove to the Dickinson Education Service Center and couldn’t believe that just two weeks ago I was speaking at the new teacher Luncheon for Dickinson ISD and now the streets I knew so well were covered with debris and the lives of those who call this city, home.

When I meet Amanda at the front door she took me upstairs to the “staging area” and that’s when the tears came. I saw the Dickinson soccer team and volleyball team sorting through the truck loads and car loads of donations that were coming in. I watched as the Football team showed up in trucks to drive these supplies out to those who were affected. I saw the youngest of Gators carrying anything they could carry out to cars to people who had lost everything. How could you not be touched?

Then yesterday, I drove another load of donations down of diapers, toothpaste, socks, and underwear donated by the JD Sheth Foundation, driven all the way in from L.A. and had the chance to watch “Coach” speak. He told the story of the man who rescued him and his dogs from his house on his Kayak and pulled him out of the water. Then I saw a woman raise her hand to thank him, she said she was at her “wit’s end” and she called Coach and fifteen minutes later four football boys were there ready to help and thirty minutes later 10 more showed up.

This wasn’t the only story I heard about the athletes and students coming to the rescue of their neighbors. That they spent those days, not in school, demoing houses, helping friends, driving supplies and collecting what they could. All in the name of Gator-aid.

Tomorrow night they take the field for the first time since the storm. It’s expected to be a sold out crowd and coach said it’s gonna be a great game. As the Gators take the field. They are playing more than a game. They are fighting for more than a first down or a touchdown. They are fighting for the friends and family and neighbors who lost it all. It will be the first time the city is going to be together since Harvey and talking with the residents yesterday, the “Gators have given us something to look forward to”.  The fans are going to fill the stadium to cheer on the team they love and the number on the scoreboard won’t determine the winner of this game. Oh, a victory would be nice but I truly believe in my heart, from the words of my mom Cyndi Pepper, “When you are down, get up, dress up, show up”.  Those boys, those fans, those ladies on the teams that helped, they got up, they dressed up and they showed up. So Gator Nation is showing up for you on Friday. Yes, to cheer on a victory, but also to say thank you. Thank you for being there for them. For answering the call. For being the young men and women that “make us proud to be Gators”.

I’ll be right there with you. Cheering you on. Hanging on with bated breath with every first down and pass hoping for a Gator win but like I said, I think the true win is that after your City was brought to its knees. After seeing the contents of people’s lives on the corners of streets. Getting up, Dressing up, and Showing up on Friday. You have already won my heart!


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