(UVALDE, Texas) — Roland Ramirez was shocked when he saw the headlines coming out of his hometown, Uvalde, Texas. As director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer for the NFL’s Houston Texans, Ramirez was living across the state when he learned that 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School.
Ramirez told ABC News that he knew some of the victims’ families, and that a former classmate’s daughter was injured in the shooting and underwent difficult surgeries. He wanted to help, and, almost immediately, Ramirez would feel the full support of his NFL affiliation.
“When tragedy struck his hometown in May 2022, our players immediately started gathering money to support the grieving community in honor of Roland. They raised $200,000 and, in support of their generosity, we matched their gift,” said Hannah McNair, vice president of the Houston Texans Foundation. “That was really what started the special relationship we have with the team and the entire Uvalde community.”
In a season where the players faced extreme adversity, Ramirez was able to be the connective tissue introducing the Houston Texans into the small, rural community of Uvalde. The Texans met student-athletes and gave back to the youth athletic programs, but he would soon learn the impact extended beyond the high school players.
Former Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey told ABC News, “They look at us as superheroes, but I looked at them. Sometimes during football, we get so caught up in wins and losses, who didn’t score this many points or who didn’t, you know, make these tackles, and you look at life, and life still goes on, and people still have things going on in life.”
Kirksey said he was inspired by the Coyotes, Uvalde High School’s football team, when he visited Uvalde — three months after the shooting — with the Texans’ owners, some coaches and players. He stayed in touch with Coyotes senior captain Justyn Rendon, offering support throughout the season. Rendon was selected among his peers to represent the jersey No. 21, honoring the 21 victims of the tragedy.
In continued support, Kirksey also gifted the team new custom Nikes in their school colors: maroon and gray.
“As a high school kid, you know, taking me back to when I was in high school, you always want to have a fresh pair of kicks,” said Kirksey.
As the 2022 season unfolded, a plethora of surprises were planned for the Coyotes program, including the Texans outfitting the team with new uniforms and cleats, inviting the student-athletes to the Texans season opener and, during that game, wearing “Uvalde Strong” decals on their helmets in solidarity, among others.
The Texans also nominated Coyotes coach Wade Miller for one of the highest high school coaching awards.
“Coach Miller exemplifies the best in high school coaching,” said McNair. “We nominated him for the NFL’s High School Coach of the Year Award in 2022 because he led and continues to lead the team with the highest character and integrity.”
The Texans gave Coach Miller and Justyn Rendon tickets to the Super Bowl in February. It was a trip of a lifetime for both of them.
Football, in Texas, became a rallying point amid a community immersed in grief.
“They fought together, … and for them to be able to at least enjoy some Friday nights, enjoy some football games and do things like that that are out of the norm each and every day. I hope those players will always carry some pride with him knowing that they help that community and help each one of those families that were suffering,” said Ramirez.
Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.