On Friday, August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall at Rockport-Fulton and dealt a significant blow to Rockport-Fulton High School (RFHS).
The “white” gym, which stood next door to the “green” gym, was gutted by the storm’s destructive winds.
The volleyball gym and girls locker room, known as the “gold” gym, could not withstand the punishing winds of Harvey and collapsed.
“Losing our gym, which was like a second home to us, was devastating,” said RFHS varsity volleyball player Allie Manson.
Fast forward to Monday, April 16 of this year, 234 days after Harvey made landfall. Ellen DeGeneres announced on her show a $1 million donation from Lowe’s to the Aransas County Independent School District (ACISD) to build a new gym.
The $1 million dollar gift will not actually be used to replace the gold gym, but rather to build a new “competition” gym, according to ACISD Superintendent Joseph Patek.
He said the gold gym will be rebuilt with insurance money.
“That construction (gold gym) could begin as soon as May 1,” said Patek.
He said the school district received about $3 million in insurance for the white gym.
“We’ve wanted to rebuild the white gym (prior to Harvey) into something bigger and better,” said Patek. “This $1 million gift is going to make that possible.”
He said the $3 million from the settlement, plus the $1 million gift, will provide the vast majority of the funds needed to build such a facility.
“An early estimate (before Harvey) was around $4 million,” said Patek. “(The architect) estimates it will cost more today.”
He said trustees will probably have to spend up to $500,000 to fully fund construction. That approval has not been given.
“I want to thank the teacher’s daughter (Sydney Macha) who mailed the letter to Ellen, and Ellen and Lowe’s for this generous contribution,” said Patek.
Macha, the daughter of RFHS English teacher Rebecca Macha, wrote to The Ellen Show several days after the storm. R. Macha described her daughter as a huge fan of Ellen, and she believed this was something with which Ellen would help.
“I just knew if Ellen knew about what happened to the school here, she would help. I knew this was something she would help with,” said S. Macha.
Days after she wrote to the show, she got a reply back, but the message was merely a confirmation the show had received the letter.
S. Macha was persistent. She continued to write the show and provided them with updates about important events taking place at the school. She did not lose hope Ellen would help in some fashion.
Then, out of the blue, on Dec. 1, 2017, The Ellen Show producers reached out to RFHS faculty and staff. The show began to gather more information about what had happened at the school. Communication went dark after that request for information.
The show then reached out to RFHS faculty and staff again in February. It was at this time RFHS English teacher Julie Manson began to discuss with some of Ellen’s producers the trials the RFHS volleyball team went through after Harvey.
The team had played its full season, post-Harvey, without a single home game, a locker room, or a gym to practice in.
During the season team members volunteered their time, under the supervision of their coaching staff, to clear debris and assist anyone who needed help.
In March, The Ellen Show reached out to the school again. This time, producers wanted to speak directly with members of the volleyball team. Up to this point, the girls had no idea the school district had been in discussions with The Ellen Show. When they were told the show’s producers wanted to speak with them, via Skype, they were in awe.
“I was completely surprised and in shock people from The Ellen Show were interested in our story. It was surreal,” said varsity volleyball player Allison Sanders.
During interviews with the team, nothing was ever mentioned about a donation to the school. The girls were hopeful something would come from it. Nonetheless, they were still excited Ellen was interested in hearing their story.
“My team and I have been through a lot and we were finally getting our chance to share what happened,” said Molly Frost. “The thought that if Ellen liked our story and that it could lead to something for our town was really nerve racking.”
On Monday, April 2, the show conducted one more set of interviews with select members of the volleyball team.
Those interviews were supposedly going to be used for a series on ellentube about schools affected by natural disasters. The players had no idea the videos would actually be used as pieces for the television show segment revealing the donation to RFHS.
A week later, on Monday, April 9, the volleyball team, along with other RFHS athletes and students, were invited to attend another video session the next day for the ellentube series. It was then that Ellen made her big reveal and stunned the crowd.
“When she came on the screen, I thought it was a joke, but then I heard her say, ‘Hey Rockport!’ And then it hit me … Wow, I’m talking to Ellen,” said varsity volleyball player Karys Hawkins.
“I was in complete shock because we had no idea we would be talking to her. I was struggling to breathe,” said Sanders.
Ellen then talked with the varsity volleyball players and varsity and junior varsity coaches Jessica Clark and Amanda Bickle.
“We were in complete shock to actually get to talk to Ellen,” said Clark. “We were expecting to film for ellentube and didn’t realize that was going to happen!”
After chatting with coaches and players in front of a live studio audience, Ellen announced that, with the help of the Lowe’s Gives Program and Lowe’s Heroes volunteer program, Lowe’s was giving $1 million dollars (supplies/money) to help fund the rebuilding of a new gym for RFHS.
It is the largest single gift ever announced on The Ellen Show.
The crowd of RFHS students, faculty, and staff erupted in joy.
“I had goose bumps and tears,” said R. Macha. “To see the persistence of one fan (Sydney) bring about a donation of $1 million dollars is unfathomable.”
“When I first heard her say that, I was so excited. Not only for what’s to come next season, but for our whole community,” said Frost.
“I was definitely excited, but also realized a new gym was more than any of us could ever ask for,” said Hawkins.
Clark said to receive that much money for the construction of a new gym for her volleyball team means the world to her.
“We are just so thankful for this opportunity and so thankful for every team and individual who reached out and helped us make our (2017) season possible through their donations, prayers, and assistance,” said Clark.
Volleyball underclassmen are excited for the opportunity to play in an all-new gym.
“Being able to play a home game without having one for a full season is going to be sensational,” said Frost.
“I’m so happy for the future Lady Pirates who will be able to use this gym,” said A. Manson. “I know it will be something I’ll appreciate for the rest of my life.”