The arrival of football captain Leo Lowin's championship ring last week was, he said, "the cherry on top" of years of hard work and a stunning victory shutout for his Westlake High School Chaparrals football team.
A glittery, dazzling, gem-encrusted—and hefty—cherry, perched proudly on top of a roller coaster year. It landed on players' hands last Thursday.
"It's some shining positivity finally emerging from the quarantine days," said Tony Salazar, assistant coach and defensive coordinator for the Chaparrals.
The ring is also a fitting symbol of the enduring cultural importance that high school football plays in Texas—and the reverence with which its champions are celebrated.
"[Head Coach] Todd Dodge really went elite with the rings," said Sage Luther, 18, another team captain and May graduate, who heads to Colgate University in the fall. "I would say we have the biggest rings in the state. We have really worked hard for it."
Already a formidable team and iconic football school in its own right, the Chaparrals won the 6A Division 2 state championship after defeating Denton Guyer 24-0 in December.
It was the second championship in the team's history. The first was in 1996, when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was a senior on the team.
"When I watched that clock hit zero, I was kind of overcome with emotion," recalled Lowin, 18, a team captain who also played safety for the Chaps. "It's something special you always dream about as a little kid. We finally made it happen."
Ordered in January and delayed for months by the pandemic, the rings arrived one week before Lowin was set to head out to the East Coast, where he'll play football for the Army Black Knights at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
"All the work we did, just to finally get those rings to show up," Lowin said. "They look great."
Most of the players got the silver $300 variety, Lowin said, with their team number, their name and the words "State Champions" embossed on the ring, and personalized inscriptions inside the band. The white gold version cost nearly $1,000, he said.
Lowin also ordered a display box, which is likely where the ring will spend most of its time.
"They're obviously pretty big, so I don't know if I'll be wearing it all the time," Lowin said with a laugh. "Whenever we come back for a reunion, I'll have to break it out."
Dodge said the timing couldn't have been better.
"Especially for our seniors that are almost going off to college now, they had a chance to get their rings," Dodge said. "It was a really special day."
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Expect some whiplash this week, Austinites: with an expected high of 103 degrees, Monday is predicted to be the hottest day of the year, but a midweek cold front is on the way to bring that first glimpse of fall.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport could see its first 100-degree temperature this year on Monday as temperatures citywide are expected to exceed this year's record of 102 degrees.
The cold front arrives Tuesday afternoon to evening.#atx #atxwx #cbsaustinwx https://t.co/rQni6ug3y4 pic.twitter.com/PoFeHPYtnM
— Chikage Windler WX (@ChikageWeather) September 20, 2021
After a typical summery Tuesday with highs in the mid-90s, Wednesday will welcome the first signs of fall as a cold front drops lows into the 50s.
Expect more wind and a chance of rain come Tuesday with a 40% chance of scattered storms. The cold front, which should last through Friday, will bring drier, crisper air that could cause fire hazards on Wednesday.
Highs will be in the upper 80s and lows in the 50s and lower 60s for the front's final two mornings.
After near record heat today, a cold front arrives tomorrow! Hang in there South-Central Texas, we have almost made it. pic.twitter.com/yd9UbNo7hY
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) September 20, 2021
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.