By Suzanne Garofalo
April 6, 2018 Updated: April 6, 2018 5:17pm
Original article: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/article/Mack-Brown-Gene-Stallings-look-to-win-big-for-12811826.php
When burnt orange and maroon meet, you can expect great passion. On a football field, it means an old rivalry, a clash of giants. But in a swanky new Houston hotel, it means something else entirely.
Mack Brown and Gene Stallings are well known for inspiring young men to push their boundaries on the gridiron. Now the former college coaching greats are helping youths they’ve never met to embrace challenges and triumphs in a different arena.
They will talk about their storied careers and helping others at Huddle Up, a fundraiser April 24 at the Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston, benefiting Camp Aranzazu. The nonprofit camp offers therapeutic recreation to children and adults with disabilities and chronic illnesses at its 104-acre site on Copano Bay in Rockport.
Brown led the Texas Longhorns to a national championship in 2005 and later this year will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame; Stallings coached at alma mater Texas A&M University, led the University of Alabama to the national title in 1992 and already is in the Hall of Fame. Charity and community are important to both men.
Stallings and wife Ruth Ann’s son, John Mark “Johnny” Stallings, was born with Down syndrome and a heart defect. He died in 2008 at 46. Stallings chronicled his relationship with Johnny in his book “Another Season: A Coach’s Story of Raising an Exceptional Son.”
“My life wouldn’t have been nearly as rich if Ruth Ann and I hadn’t raised a child with special needs,” Stallings, 83, said. “He brought our family such joy. He was an unselfish individual, and he remembered everyone’s names. He held down two jobs, at the Bryant Museum at the University of Alabama and at a funeral home here in Paris (Texas). … Even though he had a disability, he didn’t know it.”
“Johnny was born while I was at Alabama. He was a major part of everywhere I’ve ever been,” he added. “The players loved to see Johnny come to practice because if I was being hard, he’d come and my disposition changed.”
Wishing more early-education programs for children of all abilities had existed when Johnny was a boy, Stallings advocated for expanding the Rise School at the University of Alabama. He later enlisted his friend Brown and wife Sally to support the start of a Rise program in Austin. It opened its doors in 2003. Seven Rise schools now operate, including one in Houston.
“He’s helped lots of children, and I think that might be more important to him than winning football games,” Stallings said of Brown, 66, who won the Stallings Award honoring humanitarian coaches in 2012.
Indeed, Brown said, “You want to give back. Good things have happened to me because of football. I’ve been fortunate to be around so many healthy kids.”
The pressures families of children with special needs face can be “much more difficult than winning football games,” added Brown, who has an adult niece with autism.
Huddle Up organizers hope to raise $300,000 for Camp Aranzazu, which expects 750 children and young adults with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities to attend this summer. Twenty percent of campers hail from Greater Houston. The camp operates year-round, but summer is its busy season.
Camp Aranzazu underwrites most of the costs for therapists, counselors and other expenses “to remove financial barriers for families,” president Virginia Ballard said. Campers fish, climb rock walls, swim, practice archery, paint and more.
“Even five days (at camp) can be transformational,” Ballard said. “There are things they can’t get in school or clinical settings. Maybe they see they aren’t the odd man out. They aren’t the only one to bring an insulin kit to lunch. For once, they’re just like everyone else.”
“A Special World” relates programs and experiences by and for the disabled community in Greater Houston.