Terlingua Common School District prepares to break ground on a new multi-purpose gymnasium facility

TERLINGUA – Students at the modestly-sized Big Bend High School will soon have a new sports facility, and Terlingua CSD Superintendent Reagan Reed and the board of trustees are inviting the public to attend the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new multi-purpose facility at Big Bend High School at 10 a.m. on Friday, January 7.

People flock from around the world to visit Terlingua and the majestic Big Bend National Park, but the students living in the Big Bend region get to enjoy nature’s beauty and its harshness day in and day out, even when playing traditionally indoor sports such as basketball and volleyball.

With the mountains creating a spectacular backdrop for the Big Bend High School’s basketball court, it is easy to look right past the court itself. The poles holding the backboards are easily overlooked in the vast landscape of cacti.

When not in use by students, roadrunners make the court part of their habitat. That is why the school chose the iconic bird as its mascot –– opting for the Spanish word, Paisano, for the males; and Paisana for females.

Though the students and teachers take pride in the toughness it takes to play sports outside in the desert, enticing competitors to play a game on the home turf (or concrete) has been a challenge. The Paisanos affectionately call their sports court the Sky Dome. With no roof or walls to serve as a backstop for wayward balls and fouled players, the desert surroundings have been inhospitable for visiting teams that would have to make an hours-long journey to Big Bend High School. For this reason, the school has not had the luxury of a planned schedule of games. The Paisanos and Paisanas take on any competitor willing to make the journey to Terlingua.

The Paisanos and Paisanas are especially proud of how they had to learn to play sports without the advantages of walls to stop you when falling out of bounds. “Most of us learned to just slide in gravel and hopefully not eat it,” said alumnus Sierra Lowe. Perseverance is a defining trait for residents of the Big Bend region, and has been since people started settling there.

“Our isolated location and lack of resources will always be a challenge. Students and teachers have always taken this challenge head on as a source of motivation rather than an excuse,” said Reed. He also serves as principal, coach and a parent to two children in the district.

Thanks to the vision and determination of the district, Terlingua CSD will soon have something new to be proud of – the new multi-purpose gymnasium facility, complete with restrooms and stands for spectators. Parents in more populated districts may take bleachers for granted, but for parents in Terlingua, the bleachers cannot come soon enough. Many have never seen their children play sports because there was no place to sit without the heat, blazing sun and inescapable desert sand.

Reed said the new building has long been a dream of past superintendents, trustees, teachers, parents and students. Through the years, Terlingua CSD’s facilities have grown to include a library building, six-lane track, shaded playground and remodeled classrooms –– all funded through fundraising and careful financial management that resulted in savings each year that have been applied to fund capital projects.

The new high school building, completed in 1996, garnered funding from donors around the country after a 1994 New York Times article highlighted the plight of high school students in the area who faced an 89-mile commute each way to school. These determined students had to leave their homes pre-dawn to get to the school bus stop by 5:20 a.m. to make the long trek to Alpine High School, nearly two hours away. The new Big Bend High School building was simple and provided students with classrooms and office space for administrators.

Through the years, the building has been well cared for, and as a result still meets the most basic needs of classroom learning. Though the new building did not have a space for athletics, students were not accustomed to having the privilege of playing sports when they attended Alpine High School anyway. They had to depart immediately after school to take the 115-minute bus ride back to Terlingua.

“This project is personal and emotional for me as a teacher and now a parent when I take off my superintendent hat. I started at Terlingua CSD the fall of 1999, and it was exactly where I wanted to teach after graduating,” Reed said. “My student teaching was at a middle school in affluent The Woodlands, Texas. The facility disparity was night and day.” Reed believes high school has to be an attractive option for students, to entice them to continue through to graduation.

The superintendent told the story of one former student, Maira Tercero, now a parent in the district. Tercero is also the district’s longest-serving member of the Site-Base Committee. As a youth, she made the difficult decision to abandon the prospect of a high school diploma because she felt her schooling was too much of a burden on her family. Tercero eventually completed her coursework online and now has a diploma.

Similar challenges exist for the district today. Many students stay in school for the high school experience and the opportunity to play sports and enjoy the camaraderie with fellow athletes. Tercero’s two daughters will have more reasons to stay in school and get the full high school experience when the new multi-purpose gymnasium facility opens next fall. It will give the students a place to hold activities, sports, and participate in special career and technical learning opportunities such as robotics.

Larger high schools offer career and technical learning programs which are engaging for students. Without a place to work on programs like this and gain practical hands-on experience, students were at a disadvantage when they entered the workforce.

The new multi-purpose facility will be complete in summer of 2022, and now that this long-awaited facility is within reach, the district is setting its sights on a new elementary school building. It will also likely be funded through careful financial management and donations from foundations and individuals nationwide that are passionate about education. Parent and former student Tercero will have the special honor of representing the Site-Based Committee at the groundbreaking, turning the sand with a ceremonial shovel and hard hat.