Iris Ayala has been playing alongside boys in sports since she was in junior high. Now with Dell City High School set to field a varsity football team this fall for the first time in three years, she is ready to do the same under the Friday Night Lights.
“She’s just a good athlete,”
Dell City head coach Joey Czubinski said.
“She’s already told me ‘I don’t want to play (volleyball or girls basketball).’ She’s been playing with the boys for so long that she doesn’t know any better. She likes playing with the boys.”
Dell City ISD interim Superintendent and Principal Carlos Contreras expects there to only be about 15 students in high school this fall, the second smallest enrollment of any public high school in Texas. This makes having female athletes on the football team a necessity. Czubinski had three girls on his junior high team last season, and he believes there could be as many as five girls playing for the junior high team this fall in addition to Ayala starring on the varsity squad.
“[The girls] weren’t out there just being bodies,”
“They could play. They had starting positions and they contributed. Without those junior high girls playing, we wouldn’t have been able to field a football team at all.”
That contribution has been crucial in Dell City, a remote town with an estimated population of 526. It sits 90 miles east of El Paso in the valley of the Guadalupe Mountains. The nearest town is over sixty miles away, and the area is so desolate, the school’s track athletes have to travel 90 miles south to practice at a track in Van Horn because there isn’t one in Dell City.
“It’s a small, isolated farming community,”
“You’re not going to come to Dell City unless you have to come here.”
Because of its geographic isolation, Dell City has had a very low student population in recent years. The school even had to close one of its buildings due to its dwindling numbers. This year, there are only two students in its graduating class.
That quickly became a problem as the Cougars tried to field a six-man football team. Dell City last had a varsity team back in 2018 when it finished 2-7. However, six seniors played on that team. When they graduated and with the next class predominantly female, Dell City was unable to field a team the past two seasons. Instead, Czubinski kept the program alive by fielding a junior high team since there were enough players to compete at that level.
However, this fall will be different. With strong freshman and eighth grade classes this year, Czubinski believes that he will have nine or ten players on his roster for next season. The team will be predominantly made up of underclassmen as Czubinski anticipates only having one senior, Stevie Morales, and no juniors on the team.
For Morales, next season has been a long time coming.
“He played back in junior high, and the numbers haven’t been there since then,”
“I’m really happy for Stevie to get a chance to play.”
Morales will team up with a talented rising sophomore class that includes Ayala and her brother Luis as well as Reyes Espinoza, who all starred for the Cougars’ coed varsity basketball team this season.
“They were dynamite athletes in junior high and now they’re going to get the chance to get back on the field and play football,”
said Czubinski, referring to his rising sophomore class.
“I’m really happy for them. They work hard, and they don’t quit.”
With the Texas tradition of high school football returning, Contreras said that it will serve as a big boost to the school and the Dell City community.
“It’s a Texas thing to be able to have games on Fridays,”
“It brings up the morale of the faculty and staff and the students. It also does something for the community. Being such a small school, there is little to do, so the pride and atmosphere and having something to do on Fridays goes a long way.”
The impact of the team will be felt far beyond the white lines of the football field too. The annual Hudspeth County Fair is always a big draw in Dell City. This year, with a football game scheduled against Odessa Permian Basin Co-op on the Saturday of the fair, Czubinski said that it is expected to draw an even bigger crowd.
“(The event organizers) are all jacked up about that; it’s better for the fair,”
“Alumni and people who used to go school here come back here. Everybody meets over at the football game, and it’s one of those social aspects that unless you’ve lived in a small town, you don’t understand.”
With a first varsity season in three years fast approaching in Dell City, Czubinski reflected on the long journey it has been to get to this point.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who have never seen football before,”
Czubinski said, noting that there are several ESL students at Dell City.
“I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and I think I’ve done my best coaching out here. You’re at a grassroots level. You have to get them involved and you have to keep them involved. I’m real grateful for the kids and the effort they’ve put in”
And while some teams dream of state championships, Czubinski said one of his biggest goals this fall is to simply make it to November with enough players for the Cougars to compete in their final game of the season.
“With nine or ten kids, you pray to God that you’re able to stay the course academically and physically, where you have enough healthy players,”
“If we’re still playing ball that first Friday in November then I think that’s a very successful season.”
But don’t be mistaken. Dell City isn’t here just to make up the numbers. With two wins to show for his team’s efforts at the junior high level the past two seasons, Czubinski is proud of how his players have come together and kept football alive in this tiny, rural West Texas town.
“In a town like this, when you have a football team and it’s Friday night, the whole town lights up,”
“The community loves it, and we’re looking forward to [the season].”