Longhorns and Sooners don’t always get along. But in Houston, they’re building something special.
Saturday, March 29 started just like any other for Mildred Matthews. She woke up at her home in Houston, fixed her hair, and made some bacon. But by 9 a.m., a dozen volunteers wearing crimson and burnt orange were hammering new siding on her house, chipping away flaked paint, and carrying piles of lawn debris to the curb. OU and UT banners draped her chain link fence and the sound of a saw competed with power ballads blasting from a volunteer’s pickup truck.
By 10 a.m., two burly men had yanked an air conditioner from a window and replaced and repainted the rotten wood frame. Mike Zatopek, BA ’82, Life Member, caulked crevices while Jonathan Worbington, BA ’01, JD ’05, Life Member, president of the Texas Exes Houston Chapter, pieced together a replacement strip of siding. High on a ladder in a crimson t-shirt, OU grad Scott Rainey balanced a tray in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.
The unlikely partnership started on May 20, 2013, when a category 5 tornado devastated Moore, Okla. Houston-area Longhorns and Sooners teamed up to raise more than $7,500 for relief efforts. Less than a year later, the two groups joined again to help folks in their hometown.
“After our involvement with OU for the tornado relief fundraiser, we decided that our chapters need to give back to Houston,” says Rene Salinas, BFA ’06, Life Member.
Almost every volunteer, whether Sooner or Longhorn, repeated the same basic refrain throughout the morning: It’s not about the competition; it’s about working together to help the community.
The Red River rivals teamed up through Rebuilding Together Houston, a community outreach organization that helps low-income, elderly, and veteran homeowners repair and renovate their homes.
“We want to allow people to age in place and live out their lives in their own homes,” says Chuck Lutke, director of organizational advancement for the foundation. “We want them to live with hope and dignity.”
He almost shouts his last statement over the beep-beep-beeeeeeep of a passing car horn followed by a guttural “Hook ’em!” from a guy hanging out of a rolled-down window. Later, another car pulls up and a man dressed in orange steps out.
“The reinforcements have arrived!” shouts Tim Gregg, president of the OU Club of Houston. He’s brought along the tall, big-bicep-ed Jonathan Jackson, a former defensive end for the Sooners who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Bears. For a moment, that sense of football rivalry seems to spark, but Jackson plays it down. “It’s just good to come out and work with my hands,” he says.
Over the chatter and music, there’s a cry of, “Hey, where’s my ladder?” Cassie O’Connor, BS ’12, Life Member, has been on the roof all morning with a bucket of tar, quietly patching shingles. This is the first time O’Connor has volunteered with the Texas Exes Houston Chapter, but likely not the last. She’s the type of alum Worbington hoped would show up—for both the Houston community and the local Exes.
“This is a great event for people who aren’t interested in our game-watching parties or happy hours,” Worbington says.
By late morning the sun is out and so is Matthews. She walks around her tidy yard and nods approval at her now patched-up and repainted home before chatting over the fence with a neighbor.
“I hope they can clear up the bad spots and rotten wood, fix my front door that has a leak, and replace these smoke detectors,” she’d said at the start of the day.
By the time the crew wraps up around 1 p.m., that checklist and more have been completed.
“Our goal was to give our alumni an opportunity to contribute to the community while working together to help someone else in need,” Worbington says. “I think we accomplished our goal.”
Credits: Michael Stravato
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