STEPHEN HEMELT — Inner strength drives Orange County from sports to community

Published 12:36 am Saturday, January 28, 2023

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It’s been more than a week since Jeff Mathews surprised many in Southeast Texas with news he was stepping away as head football coach of the Vidor Pirates.

Since then, Orange Newsmedia has been fortunate enough to speak with the veteran coach about his initial decision and what it was like to tell the players.

Superintendent Dr. Jay Killgo has also explained the process for replacing the coach/athletic director, with a goal to fill the position in less than two months.

Then, four days after Mathews made his initial announcement to players and on social media, multiple tornados struck our county, rendering anything but safety for our neighbors as secondary news.

Thoughts of family and helping our neighbors became the most important thing.

So many of our friends and family suffered through extreme home damage, days without power and, now, the long road to recovery.

The damage was so severe the Red Cross opened a shelter in our community.

Those experiences brought me back to something Coach Mathews said before the storms struck.

He was asked what is his favorite location in the Vidor High School athletic operation.

Mathews answered fast and with emotion, noting a spot that was about togetherness, team and had nothing to do with final scores.

“We usually take a knee after the game and before the game right in the middle of the field,” he said “Sitting there, to be able to take a knee, pray with the players after the game and tell them how proud of them I am is something I will always remember. That will always be something special for me.”

That spirit of unity and caring for our neighbors is more important now with storm recovery in full swing.

It exists on sporting fields and in schools across Orange County. It’s demonstrated with every church group that volunteers to help their neighbors.

There is a resiliency that drives the residents of our cities and communities, and it won’t soon be wiped away by the most serious of storms.

One of my favorite parts during the talk with Coach Mathews was his reactions after Friday night football games when his team was victorious.

The Pirates certainly made a habitat of imposing their will on “supposedly” more talented opponents.

It’s a trait shared by many of the hard working families in our communities.

Mathews loved seeing the joy on the faces of his teammates in aftermath of such victories, calling the experience “a proud moment.”

“Knowing everything we tried to sell them, they have bought into,” he said. “This is what you accomplished. When you go through life and put others first, treat your teammates like you want to be treated, put somebody else ahead of yourself, you can accomplish anything. It’s always great to see a team that we probably shouldn’t be beating and have them leave the field and think, ‘what the heck just happened?’ That is a great moment.”

Despite the challenges of this week, there are still so many more great moments to come.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader and He can be reached at