The Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District’s tagline is “Different By Design;” a fitting label for a group of schools sprawled across five cities and interacting with a wealth of cultures. Students in HEB represent over 100 nations, and their families speak more than 70 different dialects at home. Even though 54% of those students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the district continues to keep pace with and even outperform other schools in Texas. There’s a unique culture of success in HEB. One that thrives on competition, but works in collaboration. Within that context, the Black and Blue Food Drive continues to thrive.
Since 2011, the district-wide competition has brought in 210,967 food items for the New Hope Center, an emergency food and clothing provider located underneath the 6 Stones office in Bedford. Proposed by a local junior high school student, the Black and Blue Food Drive grew from a humble, 6,000-can effort into an event circled on elementary school calendars from Fort Worth to Euless. The drive expanded rapidly once it was tied into the annual football game between HEB’s two high schools. Last year, total contributions skyrocketed up to an impressive 72,249 items. Despite the growth of the program, however, there is an undeniable consolidation of power in the campus-by-campus quest to outdo one another in love.
Donna Park has won the Elementary School competition every year save for one, Bedford Junior High is the three-time defending champion at the next level of competition, and L.D. Bell has never lost to its rival, Trinity High School. All three of those dynasties lie on the West Side of the district; the Blue side.
“The Black and Blue Food Drive is very important to Donna Park,” said Linda Wise, a counselor at the Hurst elementary school. “It helps us to instill in our kids a sense of giving back to their community. It helps us to show them how to pay it forward to the community that has given them so much. Our kids get really into it. They love that fun, competitive spirit, while also realizing that they’re helping a lot of people in this area.”
“Competition is great in everything. I think bragging rights is a good way to keep [the drive] alive,” said one student at Bedford Junior High, the school that started it all. “In the end, we’re all helping. It makes a positive effect on the community.”
The astounding trend among all the major players in the Black and Blue rivalry, however, is that even though they are all fiercely proud of their titles, they are even more in love with their community. HEB ISD is unique in the way that its students interact. Many children transfer schools and loyalties with regularity, and most have close friends — or at least acquaintances — on a rival campus. While Bell and Trinity play with passionate fervor on various fields and courts throughout the year, it’s not uncommon for players to share a church home, an extracurricular activity, or even a grocery store.
“It’s an interesting rivalry, but we’re proud of them as our sister school, and I think they probably feel the same way about us,” L.D. Bell Assistant Principal Donna Paul said of the relationship between high schools. “Our kids go to church together. They go shopping together. They’re in dance classes and peewee football and all that together. Really, they’ve grown up all together, they’re just in two separate locations. Except for that one week out of the year…”
In Texas, High School football borders on religion. In that arena, the East side of the district reigns supreme. The Trinity Trojans haven’t dropped a game to Bell’s Blue Raiders since 1997. The teams are likely to meet on different paths again this year, with the former trending toward another postseason berth while the latter battles to avoid a losing record. But, if current trends hold, it will be Bell and the Blue celebrating at halftime, when $1,000 checks are distributed to the schools who gather the most food during the drive.
“The unofficial motto at Trinity High school is ‘Beat Bell.’ No matter what the subject is, that’s the goal,” said Trinity principal Mike Harris. “That’s a tip of our hat to Bell, also. We don’t pick to try and beat somebody that’s horrible. Our goal is to beat somebody that’s good, and Bell is, indeed, good. We want to beat them in everything…and that includes being more charitable than they are!”
No matter which side of the district they find themselves on, teachers and faculty in HEB believe in a positive kind of rivalry. Many of them, like their students, have swapped from Black to Blue or vice-versa over the years. There’s a competitive spirit in every school, but it’s a positive kind of competition. One that models charity and personal growth by emphasizing unity alongside diversity.
“Whoever wins through the Black and Blue Food Drive, everybody wins. Because we collect food for those in our community,” said Tammy Daggs, Principal of River Trails Elementary. “I think that’s what makes 6 Stones unique compared to other organizations in our community. We know that whatever we give through 6 Stones goes to our kids — Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD kids.”
River Trails is the only elementary school to interrupt the Black and Blue dominance of Donna Park, and Daggs is confident that her Tigers can upset the Mustangs again this year. In addition to heavy involvement from the Parent-Teacher Association and a strong faculty, River Trails has the advantage of sharing space with First Baptist Church of Hurst. Families within that congregation have been known to chip in supplies during the drive, boosting donation totals for the Fort Worth school. It’s not an uncommon strategy: most of the winning schools engage their PTA or offer other rewards to individual students and classrooms. But winning goes beyond mobilizing the most people or collecting the most cans.
“It gives us an opportunity to talk to our students about something bigger than themselves. That’s a hard concept for Junior High students to get sometimes, to look beyond their own immediate needs,” said Bedford Junior High principal Michael Martinak. “The Black and Blue Food Drive gives us an opportunity to start talking about servant leadership. It gives us an opportunity to start talking about being a contributing member of the community.”
Martinak, who has spent time under both the Black banner and the Blue, also points to the unique community atmosphere of HEB when discussing the district’s history of success. While every campus has its own incentives during the drive — from donation-matching programs to homework passes to the right to throw a pie into the principal’s face — the driving force behind the Black and Blue Food Drive is the same thing that fuels everything else in HEB. Everyone wants the students to grow and succeed.
“We’re Hurst-Euless-Bedford. It’s three, but it’s really just one. I think it starts just from the name, if nothing else,” Harris said. “Whether your elementary school happened to be in the ‘H,’ the ‘E,’ or the ‘B’ part of the district, you’re still part of the district. We all have the same end-result goals: to graduate from HEB ISD and to move on to something else after that. So I think there is a lot of unity among the district.”
Whether the dynasties continue or a new champion is crowned, the 2016 Black and Blue Food Drive will see students working together to care for their neighbors. In that sense, the entire area wins. But, of course, only a few can claim bragging rights until next October.