Socked deep in the agricultural heart of Van Zandt county sets Martin's Mill. If you were to call Martin's Mill a "one horse" town that horse would be a Mustang.
With 30 to 40 students per grade level Martin's Mill is small...even for a 1-A school. But the accomplishments here are bigger than their numbers. Exemplary rated from one end of the school to the other. The elementary by the way is just down the hall from the high school. District champs in most UIL academic and sporting events.
And then there is basketball.
"It's definitely what brings this community together," says Head Basketball Coach Trae Moore. "The Gymnasium is packed on Tuesday and Friday nights. We have a ton of support. Great crowds. Great parents. Great Community. Its just a great place to be if you're a basketball coach."
Its been five years since the Mustangs have lost a district game. Coach Trae Moore came to Martin's Mill as assistant six years ago to help Ken Bailey rebuild the program. Moore became head coach three years later. During that time it wasn't just basketball program that was changing.
"We sense and feel that that there is a spiritual warfare that goes on and we just wanted to take a stand," says Coach Moore. "And say that we believe in Jesus Christ. And we are young men of God and this is what we believe and we think its important."
It was two years ago this team brought their convictions out onto the court... the second they step onto the court.
"We come out to usually a Christian song," says Moore. "It's a very contemporary, upbeat that the guys, the team picks out."
The pre-game ends when the Casting Crowns song If His People Pray blasts through the gym. That signals not the final pre-game pep talk..but a time for prayer.
"And then when that song starts we come over and kneel. Its an open prayer. People, some people from the community will come down. We have several young men from our junior high program that will come out with us. Several pastors in the area will come down and prayer with us," says Coach Moore.
For two years now the Martin's Mill Mustangs have stepped out on the court to pray before they play. Its the main reason B.J. Brawner decided to move here for his last two years of high school.
"We really felt God calling us here. We felt it was time for a change from our old town. And..ah.. Martin's Mill is an incredible place to be," says B. J. Brawner. "When we pray on the floor people see that so we have to continue that in the school and outside of school and everywhere we are. So we are not seen as hypocrites. And so it makes a stand."
And a stand this team has taken. From the gym in Martin's Mill all the way to the state championship game on the U-T campus this Mustangs team has started every game on the floor with prayer.
For senior Travis Womble the journey has changed his life forever.
"I thought of myself as a Christian but I hadn't full given my life over to God," says Travis. "B.J. moved here and about a week later or a month later I was saved and we started in basketball. And I could really tell it was helping me grow alot. We are so close, we are such a family that we hold each other accountable and we have really high moral standards for each other."
"It's been amazing support that we have had from our community and other schools, like I said, and even officials. People appreciate that these young men are taking a stand. Its not the coaches, its these young men too. They realize basketball is a big deal to them but there is a bigger picture out there. And they want to take that stand to and they want to be young men of God," says Coach Moore.
In March the Mustangs fell just two points short of a state title. In their moment of disappointment this team again gathered at the center U-T gym and prayed.
Today the gym at Martin's Mill is quite. The hopes of a new season already replacing the accomplishments of seasons past. But for a group of young men who decided to live out their faith... the idea of their "glory" days will always have a different meaning.
"We just wanted to show everybody that God was our main focus. And basketball was just secondary," said team captain Brant Etheridge, "but to glorify Him with our abilities.">
"Its just awesome," says senior Travis Womble, "just being able to tell everybody this is who we are. And this is what we believe in. And... I'm really gonna miss that. A lot.
"This Brought some kids to God and closer to God," says Coach Moore. "We'll know the answer to that in 20 or 30 years when these guys are out and we see what types of fruit they're spreading."
Tuesday, August 19 2014 4:10 PM EDT2014-08-19 20:10:07 GMT
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