SAN ANTONIO — It's a four-word mantra that has become ingrained in the culture of Northside ISD Athletics: going beyond the game.
The nearly 600 men and women who work as teachers and coaches in the sprawling school district are guided by that credo daily.
Promoted for years by NISD Athletic Director Stan Laing, going or coaching beyond the game could stand as his department's mission statement. Coaches swear by it and strive to live up to the high expectations.
"We love the game that we coach and our goal is to win, but we understand that our main purpose is to help raise good young men and women," Harlan head football coach Eddie Salas said Wednesday. "If you look at your purpose and let your purpose drive everything you do, then it becomes a passion. For us, it's always been like that."
Salas and his Harlan coaches will be among dozens of NISD high school and middle school coaches who will hand out meals to students at 11 middle schools in the district Thursday morning and afternoon.
With the specter of the coronavirus gripping the country, most school districts in the San Antonio area will remain closed indefinitely. NISD students have been off since starting spring break last Monday.
Salas and his coaches were at Vale Middle School on Wednesday when the NISD started distributing meals to its economically disadvantaged students at 8 a.m. District officials estimated that 27,000 meals were handed out on the first day of distribution, which will continue each weekday until students return to classes.
The meals, handed out in boxes, were prepared by the NISD food service in the district's central kitchen and delivered to each campus by NISD workers.
"For me, going out there and watching our coaches work together again was a lot of fun," Salas said. "I got to coach today. When I got there, I said, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do. Here's the game plan. Get two people here, two people there.' I fell back in my element, you know?"
Angie Beers McCluskey, a longtime NISD teacher and coach, helped distribute meals at Sul Ross Middle School. She even directed traffic in the parking lot for good measure. NISD Superintendent Brian Woods was among the workers handing out meals at Sul Ross.
"You want to help somehow," said McCluskey, who is on the faculty at Connally Middle School. "You just feel so stuck. When the opportunity came, my husband and I jumped on it. We want to do whatever we can to help. We're in the business for kids. Obviously, our leadership is in the same business, and they want to do what's best for the kids and community.
"All that trickles down to us and motivates us. Stan is big on that and so is Dr. Woods. That's one of the reasons I've been with the district for so long. I love what they stand for, and I love their passion."
Bill McCluskey, Angie's husband and an assistant football coach at O'Connor High School, distributed meals with other O'Connor coaches at Rayburn Middle School.
"To be honest with you, it was refreshing to be with some co-workers and guys that you know, just coming off spring break," Bill McCluskey said. "Then you find out school's been canceled. It's really frustrating because our mindset right now is trying to get ready for that next (football) season.
"Right now, it's (coronavirus) put every coach in the state of Texas kind of in a panic. But it does put the world in perspective. This is the right thing to do at this time."
McCluskey, who is in his 28th year as a teacher and coach, was heartened by the interaction he had with those who received meals Wednesday.
"The most refreshing thing was the gratefulness of the people who picked up those boxes," McCluskey said. "That put it all in perspective for us."
In his 10th year as NISD athletic director, Laing never misses an opportunity to drive home to his coaches the importance of going beyond the game. As the coaches' help with the meal distribution illustrates, they have taken Laing's message to heart.
"It's definitely the culture at Northside," Salas said. "It starts at the top with Stan. He does a great job. He doesn't have to push us to feel like we have to do it. It's just part of what's ingrained in all of us. We want to do it.
"When we're sitting in our (athletic) coordinators' meeting, there are a lot of conversations and service comes up all the time. There's nobody in that room that says, 'Hey, this is too much' or 'Why are we doing all this?' Everybody is like, 'Man, that's a great idea, a good thing to do.'"
Laing praised NISD coaches for their continued service and for helping with the meal distribution.
"This is not about me," Laing said. "This is about these coaches, the food service people who are preparing the meals, the people who are delivering them at the schools and our Northside police. I'm proud of our coaches. You talk about going beyond the game.
"I know our coaches do a great job of talking to our young people about servant leadership. If you step back and really think about it, the greatest lesson that we can ever learn from sports is learning how to fail, learning how to overcome adversity, learning how to fight through disappointments.
"I know this is very uncommon, what we're dealing with (coronavirus), but at the end of the day, it's adversity we're dealing with," Laing said. "It's all a test on how we're going to respond to a very difficult situation. I certainly couldn't be prouder of our coaches, and them stepping up when they didn't have to."