50 for No. 50

A different Christmas story
By Alice Liles
Alice’s note: This story first appeared in my blog The Bright Lights of Muleshoe on December 27, 2014, under the original title of “Two Christmas Stories-The Liles Extravaganza and 50 for No. 50.”

I won’t bore you with the Liles Christmas story, which is not important, but I do want to share 50 for No. 50 again. Football is still on everyone’s mind as we consider Coach Wood’s retirement and his impact on Muleshoe football and the community, and this is a story about football, too, about a football team and how the team’s love, loyalty, and faith helped them deal with the loss of Noah Ortiz, no. 50. That is the real Christmas story.

I received this Christmas letter in a card for Tara Simons Orsak, a family friend, former student, and fellow Aggie from Edna the town we moved from to Muleshoe. Her letter touched my heart, and I felt the need to share it with you. I asked her permission to reprint part of it just as she wrote it, and she graciously agreed. I couldn’t retell it any better than she said it herself. Even though I learned about the tragedy in a Christmas card, the event happened closer to Thanksgiving, but it serves, I hope, to make us all realize we have so many blessings that we fail to recognize, and I think it restores faith in human nature and what love can do. I hope you will read it to the end. Here is what Tara wrote after updating us on other things her family had been up to.
“Events of the past few weeks have forced our family to stop and reflect on the bounty of blessings that we have in each other and in you, our friends. I wanted to share this story with you.
On November 25th, three days after a surprising win in a bi-district football playoff game, one of [Tara’s son] Cade’s friends, classmate and teammate, Noah Ortiz, lost his life in a house fire along with his four younger brothers and sisters, Nicholas Ortiz, Julian Ortiz, Lilyana Hernandez, and Areyanah Hernandez. This tragic event devastated our small town. Noah was a defensive tackle for the Edna Cowboys, wearing jersey number 50. Amazingly, the Edna Cowboy football team, with heavy hearts, rallied around the family that suffered such terrible loss, and continued to play football in Noah’s honor for three more weeks, in a most improbable playoff run, becoming state semi-finalists in Texas’ Division 1, Class 3A bracket. During the regional playoff game, the first game after losing Noah (#50), Cade as the ball holder, was able to take the hike and lay on the ball in order to forego the extra point after a touchdown and make the final score of the game 50-28, in honor of Noah. Our
opponents in each of the playoff games, representing the towns of Ingram, Halletsville and Cameron, made donations of more than $16,000, $19,000, and $36,000 to Noah’s family prior to each game. In addition, more than $60,000 was collected in two online accounts.
God shows his love for us through the actions of others and through tear-filled eyes we have seen that there are many loving people in this world.
There continue to be many tears shed for the loss of these precious children. At the same time, our community has been so excited about the success of our team and humbled by the compassion and generosity of people from other places. We feel that we have all been a part of a nightmarish fairy tale. Our boys have grown as teammates and young men while we have all witnessed God’s plan, power, mercy, strength and love. May we celebrate all of these things God has given us. In addition to the best gift of all, Jesus.”
The rest of the story is this: Football is not just about playing a game. Football can also bring together a team and a community while having the ripple effect on a whole area. Just as the teams Edna met in the playoff games after the tragedy gave donations to help the family, other donations continued to come in. The Edna community gave $15,000 to establish a scholarship to be given in Noah’s name.
The football team made sure his spirit was with them for the remainder of the season in several ways. A large flag with his number 50 on it led them onto the field for the remaining games of their season.
The Ag shop made a metal cross that held his helmet that stood on the sidelines with the boys during the games.
His locker and equipment remained in place until the end of the season, and the cross was there, too.
An award for outstanding defensive lineman was created in his name and was first awarded in by the Edna Athletic Department in May of 2014.
Noah would have graduated in May 2017. The metal cross stood behind the chair which would have been Noah’s spot. His name was read when he would have received his diploma.
None of this will bring Noah back. We know that. But for these young men, Noah has not left.
God bless them every one.

Reference,  Video news story link:


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