The Heart of the High Plains

Sept. 13, 2012

by Britton Drown
Texas Tech Athletics Communications

It was an early July morning, one with that certain Texas High Plains feel to it, when suddenly a caravan of vehicles splintered the peaceful summer silence. The hurried pack of sedans and SUVs screamed uninterrupted down the once quiet county road, a long two-lane stretch that otherwise would be vacant from such a determined rush of city traffic.

Somewhere beyond the familiar comforts of the Lubbock city limits, the vehicles cruised the endless stretch of pavement already steaming from the rays of a warm West Texas sun rising at much slower pace on the horizon.

On and on they went in a dead-straight drive until a streak of red brake lights signaled the approaching destination. Quickly, the pack of cars decelerated and swerved off the pavement onto a stretch of aging dirt road. In sync, they followed and rumbled along the uneven trail until it faded into a dead end just a few hundred yards ahead.

Now dwarfed in a neat row, the handful of engines wined slowly to a stop just ahead of a balloon of dust trailing slowly behind. All that stood in front of them now was cotton.

Rows upon rows of pure Texas cotton.

It was an impressive scene to conclude the journey - one that took little time to capture the attention of the Texas Tech football players climbing out of the vehicles. With little time to comprehend what stood front of them, the group was greeted by current Plains Cotton Growers and family members offering a friendly welcome to their farm in Petersburg.

"It was definitely surprising," senior receiver Alex Torres said.

In essence the morning was a photo shoot for the upcoming 2012 football season and more specifically today's `National Cotton Game.' The expensive and all but out of place camera equipment perched at the edge of the massive cotton field reminded the visitors of that much.

However, the symbolic nature of the Texas Tech football team engaging with local cotton farmers quickly took precedence over arranging any type of cover photo for a football game months away.

The state of Texas is the nation's largest producer of cotton and farmers in the High Plains alone produce on average 4.25 million bales per year.

"Most of the things that we get to do on Saturdays get a lot of attention," Torres said. "They supply so much for everyone, and not many people get to really see what they do every day."

Here, 40 miles from Jones AT&T Stadium, stood a small sample and yet clear symbol of just how central the cotton industry is to both the Lubbock and West Texas economy.

"We work every day to make sure that people understand the importance of cotton to the local economy," Mary Jane Buerkle, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Plains Cotton Growers, said. "Because it's not just Lubbock, it's everybody in the region too."

Saturday's game against New Mexico has been declared the `Celebrate Cotton Game' as Texas Tech entered into a partnership with the Texas High Plains cotton industry to promote the awareness of cotton's importance to the local and regional economy.

"It's huge," Buerkle said. "Anytime we have an opportunity to tell thousands of people about cotton and how important it is in their daily lives is just tremendous. But what's even more important is the partnership between Texas Tech and the cotton industry."

That connection will certainly be felt during Saturday's celebration at Jones AT&T Stadium. The stadium and surrounding areas will truly be transformed into a celebration of the cotton industry as tractors, cotton bales, exhibits and more will be on display to fans in an effort to further tell the story of the crop and its special place in both the history of Texas Tech and the High Plains region.

"So many folks in the seats at football games are related to the agriculture industry," Buerkle, who is also a Texas Tech graduate, said. "We are just really glad that everyone had the opportunity to come out and see what they do on a daily basis."

Cotton, as it sat in the fields that July morning, is the state's No. 1 agricultural row crop. Meanwhile, Texas is the nation's largest cotton producing state in the country, and farmers in the High Plains produce on average 4.25 million bales per year.

Perhaps even more significant, the Texas High Plains is the largest contiguous cotton patch in the world.

On Saturday, the importance of the cotton industry will be on display at Jones AT&T through the familiar lens of an autumn Texas Tech football game.

"This game represents the tremendous relationship between cotton and Texas Tech," Plains Cotton Growers President and Slaton cotton grower Craig Heinrich said. "Both are vital to our economy and depend on each other in many ways."

For Texas Tech receiver Austin Zouzalik, a Lubbock native, the opportunity to raise awareness of the cotton industry within his hometown is something he has been looking forward to since that early July morning in Petersburg.

"It's just been a really great experience," he said. "It means a lot. It's great to raise awareness because a lot people just take it for granted. It's even more important to focus on the local economy and especially locally grown cotton."

And that is exactly the purpose of both Saturday's game and more importantly Saturday's celebration.

"Cotton and Texas Tech are synonymous," Texas Tech Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt said. "And we hope this game will serve as an educational tool for people all across the nation that in West Texas -We Clothe America."




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