ENNIS, TX — What started as a dare in the fall of 1999 quickly turned into something Ennis Lions fans look forward to year after year. Gary Macalik and his dad, Joe Ben, found a unique way to support the Ennis Lions during football season. They don’t use poster board and crepe paper streamers to cheer their team to victory. Their special mode of spirit takes a parking spot at the H-E-B grocery store, a back windshield, some white shoe polish and a menu fit for a den of hungry lions. “I can’t really remember exactly how it all began, but someone dared us to write something on the car window,” Gary said with a smile, “We had so much feedback from people that first year that we continue what has become somewhat of a tradition here in E-town.”
With all this school spirit, you might think Gary, and Joe Ben for that matter, had a long history of their own playing football for the Ennis Lions. That would be an untrue assumption. Joe Ben never played, and Gary only suited up for a single season. But Gary’s memories of the first game he attended with his father are still vivid. As he reminisces, the excitement he felt comes flooding back. “We saw someone really special that night,” he said. “He was a running back and kick returner named Stanley Robinson. He was electric. Every time he touched the ball, we held our breath because we knew something magical was about to happen.”
A few years later when Gary was in the seventh grade, he went out for the football team. This was his one and only season of play. “I soon found out that 120 pounds and slow feet would not be
a winning combination,” Gary admitted. “That was the only year I actually suited up to play.” One might think this alone would squelch any football spirit, but it made no difference to Gary and Joe Ben. They continued to go to as many home games as they could. Memories of Gary’s freshman year at Ennis High School (EHS) came rushing back. “It was 1975,” he stated. “Ennis won the Class 3A title in a game against Cuero.”
As time marched on, Gary graduated, married Valerie and had a family of his own. He and Joe Ben continued to make the games as often as they could. In 1999, Gary’s son decided to go out for the football team as a seventh grader. “Things really had changed since I was in the seventh grade,” Gary said. Over 100 young men tried out for the squad, which had grown to include three teams – the maroon, the white and the gray. They dominated their opponents, so much so that the maroon and white teams took district honors. “This was the year Dad and I started going to away games, too,” Gary said. “It was also the year Coach Sam Harrell got the ‘E-train’ going.”
Coach Harrell took the team to the playoffs that year, eventually losing to the 1999 Champions from Stephenville. At the beginning of this playoff round the dare was levied. “I was dared to begin the Lions’ menu,” he laughed, “and it wasn’t long before I had a cult-like following. I had friends, fellow H-E-B employees, family and E-town fans asking what was going to be on the menu next.” Gary admits that some of his menu ideas came from Paula Deen cookbooks or from the Food Network.
Tasteful and fun menu items over the years have included every school mascot the Lions have ever played. Looking back, Gary cannot recall a week of play that a menu wasn’t posted. Before the first game, the menu will read, “E-Town Football, We Believe.” During the months of play, menus will include Panther Puddin’, Smoked Tiger, Cougar Burgers, Tiger Kolbase and the ever- popular Indian Pot Pie. When the season comes to a close, the back windshield simply reads, “E-Town Football, We Thank You.”
E-Town football fans like Gary and Joe Ben believe in their football team. From 1999 on, fans have planned the Thanksgiving holiday, last minute Christmas shopping and family birthdays around the Ennis Lions’ playoff schedule. Once Coach Harrell went to a spread offense in 2000, the team started mauling their competition. Quarterbacks Tate Wallis and Graham Harrell and receivers B.J. Jones and Vincent Marshall punched the excitement of the game up several notches during their tenure with the team. “We were winning playoff games every year in Texas Stadium, which we called Lions Stadium North,” Gary remembered. “I think our Lions won more games in that stadium than the Cowboys did.”
As Gary and Joe Ben started attending more games, they took on a sidekick, the one they like to refer to as the “bus driver.” Joe Ben stated, “Judge Lee Johnson started catching as many games as he could with us. I think I remind Lee of his father. That might be why the three of us have so much fun.”
“Lee liked the idea that no matter where we went, someone knew my dad,” Gary added. “Lee got a real kick out of that.”
Gary and Joe Ben aren’t the only two football fans in the family. They just happen to be the two who have kept the dare going all these years. Gary has two sisters who also have a great deal of Lion pride and school spirit. Sharon’s two girls were always cheerleaders, while his younger sister, Kathy, has a son who is playing football as a ninth grader this year. “When the girls were in school, it was a family event,” Sharon said. “It was nice to have everyone there together.” All these many years later, it’s still a time of father-and-son bonding for Gary and Joe Ben. “When the kids were little, Joe Ben was too busy to go to football games on a regular basis,” Helen, Joe Ben’s wife of 54 years, said. “Now that they have time to go, it’s brought them closer together.”
This closeness is what prompted Sharon to make a call. She wanted to share the story of this bond between a father and his son that’s not only special, but heartwarming. All the dare of a Lions’ menu did was add spice to an already close relationship. “Gary really is a football fan,” Sharon confessed. “He loves the Ennis Lions and the Washington Red Skins equally.”
Gary and Joe Ben have hearts for football. They love kickoff, when everyone throws the “L” sign in support of their team, and Gary’s heard yelling, “Come get some.” They love watching the team win, and they’ve also been to the few games when the team has had to eat some “humble pie.” Joe Ben laughingly stated, “We don’t hunt or fish. Football is the factor that has brought us closer together as father and son.”
Written by Sandra Strong.