La Vernia welcomes uplifting extended Easter weekend as a break from recent tough news

La Vernia youth in prayer. (La Vernia Grizzlies Youth)

La Vernia Grizzlies Youth (LV Grizzlies)

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Friday, April 14, 2017 offers a much welcomed extended weekend for La Vernia, Texas, the small town 30 minutes southeast of San Antonio that has recently been rocked by scandal. The La Vernia Independent is taking it’s scheduled “Easter Break” and it couldn’t come at a better time. On the shoulders of practically every citizen of the community has been the multitude of reminders as the arrests of thirteen high school student-athletes were arrested on multiple sexual assault charges.

Perhaps the La Vernia Police Department has worked the hardest the past two months on getting it all right. Sgt. Donald “D.J.” Keil and Chief Bruce Ritchey have tirelessly provided the leadership to keep integrity in the investigations, find help for children and keep stability in the community. It was Chief Ritchey who first acknowledged that healing will come from addressing the situation.

“This has impacted trust in the community,” Ritchey said. “We need to get with the kids and let them realize how serious this is. We think kids got caught up in the moment and didn’t realize the seriousness of this matter.”

Easter weekend has always been important to the beautiful, friendly community and most citizens will take advantage of the time for prayer, refection and the county of blessings. Churches are planning seasonal services and offer much of the stability needed.

Donna Howell, a mother who moved to the community in 2005, mentions some of the blessings include the various sports activities that have been so important to local youth. The La Vernia Grizzlies Youth Sports Association is a Texas Youth Football Association affiliated organization with facilities at Wiseman Field off FM 775. St Ann’s Catholic Church offers C.Y.O sports for children in soccer, volleyball, flag football, track, basketball, baseball, and softball starting at age of four.

“They are Christian based, we pray before and after each event and win or lose our young people are encouraged to have fun and be kind to one another.”

“They are a positive part of our community,” Howell said. “They are Christian based, we pray before and after each event and win or lose our young people are encouraged to have fun and be kind to one another.”

Howell said her children have played on La Vernia Little League teams “for the past 3 years and have enjoyed lasting friendships as well as learning the game from the ground up.  I have not been involved in the structuring of this organization, but from the parent point of view it’s been well organized and a pleasant experience.”

Grizzlies Football (La Vernia Youth)

“I know the former president was Chad Walker, although I didn’t know him personally, there was always positive talk and energy at the complex.  This season Matt Brown was elected president.  Matt is a member of the community, owns a local business and coaches a little league baseball team.  He has been a positive influence on this community and continues to carry on a tradition of maintaining a positive atmosphere in the organization.  My children’s coaches have promoted good sportsmanship, kindness and consideration to others in their spirit of competition.”

“The La Vernia Grizzlies Youth Sports Association is what I know best,” Howell smiled. “The organization began in 1997 as La Vernia Grizzlies Pop Warner Football and Cheer leading.  There were a group of women lead by Jonett Story and Tina Howell that wanted to have a place for our young ladies and gentlemen to gather as a community to form friendships and learn things like good sportsmanship and sense of fair play.”

“With the hard work of this group of ladies and financial support from the community–as well as the generosity of the Wiseman family who graciously allowed them the use of the land to develop this organization–the Grizzlies were born,” Howell said. “They grew by leaps and bounds and for about 12 years the community youth were involved in either cheer leading or playing football.”

La Vernia water tower (J. Dennis)

In 2010 “the Grizzlies made the decision to move from Pop Warner to TYFA and thereby changing our name officially to La Vernia Grizzlies Youth Sports Association organized by Matt Miller then turned over and headed up by our former president James Green, who dedicated the next 7 years to our young men, women and organization as a whole.”

La Vernia, considered part of the San Antonio Metropolitan area has been a thriving rural community that over the past decade has experienced considerable growth. Also, in 2010 a new H-E-B Food/Drugs and shopping center marked a milestone for local business and the community. Recognizable chains such as Whataburger, Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Sonic, Subway and Taco Bell emerged. The familiar growing pains most small towns experience when new businesses and neighbors move in crept in. Some say it was the typical ‘good ol’ boy system’ threatened by what they considered an intrusion of new citizens that caused the pains. Others, like Donna Howell, see the youth programs as a uniting force of opportunities and bridges to help with the growth.

“We do this by modeling it within the organization by being accountable, and holding each other accountable.”

Howell says that “those who served on the board of directors have done an outstanding job of being there for our kids.  Four years ago our president and coach had a vision to bring Pony baseball to the Grizzlies.  His vision came to light three seasons ago, first with baseball then softball. Our softball commissioner Shibbon Ovalle is having a great second season.”

“In March of this year our esteemed leader chose to pass the torch in order to concentrate on his youngest son’s last year of football with the Grizzlies, as a parent, ” Howell observed. “The torch was graciously accepted by our current president Ronnie Gullion,  backed by an amazing vice president Matt Miller as well as an awesome board of directors Kerri Gullion, Brian Bosanko, Matt Awbrey, Shibbon Ovalle, Ashlie Freidrichs, Georgianna Jannise, Jessica Neal and myself.”

“This board of directors come from all stations in life,” Howell acknowledges. “We don’t always agree on everything but the one thing we do agree on is this organization is for the kids.  To teach them their chosen sport, to show them how to have fun, be competitive, develop good sportsmanship and respect for each other and authority.  We do this by modeling it within the organization by being accountable, and holding each other accountable.”

“Our parents in this organization are amazing people who understand they are here to build up and edify these kids, not to tear them down or shame them,” Howell continued. “And we do all of this while being USA Football (Heads Up) certified, using equipment and uniforms that offer our kids the most protection because their safety, on and off the field, is our #1 priority.”

“No organization is without it’s growing pains and those few who are exceptions to the rule but we also hold them accountable,” Howell said. “Our parents sign an agreement when their kids are registered to set an example of these characteristics.  And they are held to these standards.”

“In closing I’d like to thank you again for the opportunity to allow those outside the community to see there is good and bad everywhere even in the little towns and communities of this great nation and the world,” Donna Howell wrote. “That there is far more going on than the events that are ‘news worthy’.”

Some of the community religious activities planned over the weekend include: 


Lutheran Church in La Vernia (Immanuel Lutheran)

The La Vernia Ministerial Alliance, 830-253-8905, sponsors “The Community Carries the Cross” on Good Friday, starting at 10 a.m. at the entrance of the La Vernia City Park.

The Cowboy Fellowship of Wilson County, 830-769-3733, offers Good Friday service at 6:30 p.m.  Easter Sunday services will be at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and will include the Lord’s Supper.

St. Ann Catholic Church, 830-779-3131, will have a Mass of the Last Supper on Thursday at 7 p.m. Stations of the Cross will be on Friday at 6 p.m., followed by a bilingual Mass at 7 p.m. in the church. Mass will be held on Saturday at 7 p.m. Easter Sunday Mass will be at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 5:30 p.m.

The First Baptist Church of La Vernia, 830-253-1239, will have a prayer, praise, and preparation service at 6 p.m. on Saturday. On Easter Sunday, services will be at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. A children’s Easter celebration will be held after the 10:30 a.m. service.

The La Vernia United Methodist Church, 830-779-2621, offers Good Friday worship service at 6:30 p.m. A sunrise Easter service will be held at 7 a.m., followed by an Easter procession at 8:30 a.m. An Easter celebration service will be at 11 a.m.

Life Church of La Vernia, 830-947-3480, has a Good Friday service at 6:30 p.m. Easter services will be held at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Immanuel Lutheran Church, 830-253-8121, offers a Good Friday Tenebrae service of increasing darkness at 7 p.m. Easter: sunrise service will be held at 7 a.m. An Easter breakfast will be held from 8:15-9:30 a.m. in the parish hall. A Resurrection Service will be held at 10 a.m.

Grace Bible Church, 830-779-5200, Easter Sunday services are at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. in the La Vernia High School auditorium. A children’s program, “Jesus Changes Everything,” will be offered during both services to children ages 3 through fifth grade.

The La Vernia Christian Teaching Center, 830-779-6361, will have an Easter praise and worship service at 10 a.m.

Hope Assembly of God, 830-779-4673, will have an outdoor Easter service at 8:30 a.m. at the cross. A special Healing and Miracles service is planned for 9:50 a.m. for anyone who needs healing. Children’s programs will be available during the 9:50 a.m. service.

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