Memorial student-athletes take “Great Trade Robbery” to state history competition; receive help from Jimmy Johnson

Published 12:40 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

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Two Memorial High School athletes once again made history — but this time in history.

Davion Wilson and Cobe Stoever, both Titans quarterbacks, are competing in April in the Texas History Day State Competition after qualifying in a regional round this month.

The project that earned them medals shows how Port Arthur changed history in the National Football League.

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“The project is about how Jimmy Johnson changed the league with the Herschel Walker trade, getting all of the picks and winning three Super Bowls after that,” Wilson said.

The topic, announced in June, is broad, said World History Teacher Rachel Simmons. This year’s topic was “Frontiers: People, Places and Things that Changed History.”

Wilson and Stoever began working on their project in August prior to the 2022 football season, in which the Titans won their first playoff game since 2017.

After tossing around ideas, they opted to explain how the Port Arthur native and former NFL coach changed the way players are drafted in the NFL as well as other sports.

“Jimmy Johnson created the draft value system for trading draft picks right before he got hired by the Cowboys,” Simmons said. “He analyzed 10 years of trades, the trade of draft picks and gave a point system to the draft picks.

“They still use that. A lot of other leagues use something similar to that now. But the Herschel Walker trade, he for like 18 players and picks for one player. And it’s what built that 90s Super Bowl team that they had. He called it the Great Train Robbery.”

And using a play on words suggested by Johnson himself, the Memorial students called their project the “Great Trade Robbery.”

Getting in touch with Johnson wasn’t easy, Simmons said, but she knew he would participate in the project if she could reach him.

And ultimately she wound up with the right email address.

“The next day I had a phone call,” she said. “My husband didn’t believe me. I had to literally show him the voicemail that was left. Cobe had to record part of the interview and show it to one of his parents. It’s not real to these kids to have that experience, and there are a lot of local celebrities.”

Johnson spent 20 minutes on a Zoom call with the two athletes to help explain his experience and answer their questions.

“We were kind of nervous, but when we got in there, we shook it off,” Wilson said. “He was an open book, so we didn’t have any problems asking him anything. The first question we asked him, he answered four questions just off one. He took the time with us. He’s a great man. I never thought I’d talk to an NFL coach if I didn’t make it into the league.”

It was an excitement their teacher was able to share in.

“Getting Jimmy Johnson to actually text you pictures and articles and stuff like that, and spend 30 minutes on a Zoom interview with them — it was an awesome experience to witness them get that, and to hear them talk about it after,” she said. “To me it was crazy to see them have that experience, to see the goofy excitement that they had from it before and after. To hear them talk about it now — they haven’t rewatched the interview that we recorded on the Zoom.”

Wilson said there’s no need.

“The experience — you soak everything in from it,” he said. “You don’t get that again. We were just honored.”

And both took life lessons from the experience.

“Always go with your first mind,” Wilson said. “Don’t ever let anybody make you overthink anything. If you have a feeling, then go with it. He received a lot of hate. I don’t think anybody was on his side. But you have to stay strong, block all of the noise out and get done what you have to get done.”

Stoever said he learned a lot about himself.

“I learned that I can take time off, research and be smart,” he said.

The project

Stoever and Wilson used a three-part display to display their topic of choice. They were given only 500 words of their own to use with the rest allowed only in articles, photos and similar media.

On Feb. 4, they competed with five teams at Lee College in Baytown. The top two qualified for state. Stoever and Wilson took second.

They are the first group from Memorial High School to do so.

“They have worked so hard,” Simmons said. “The research they’ve put in. The passion that these kids have for their topics was the biggest thing the judges said. They said that’s what stood out for this project — the local connection and the passion that they had. You could tell they were excited and proud of what they had done.”

Two other teams also went and each placed third.

Yasmine Campos and Melanie Bonilla placed for “Demons, Witches and Ghosts! Oh My!” Their project was centered around Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators portrayed in “The Conjuring” films. Kelliyah Kenney placed with “Pathway to Fingerprinting: The Wild Story of Will and William West.”

On April 15, Stoever and Wilson will take an enhanced version of their current project to the University of Texas at Austin. They will be using feedback given by judges this month as well as an expanded display area.

Simmons said she is working with the Career and Technology Education Center to construct it. And that board will be repurposed when Stoever, his brother and another member of the football team enter the competition again.

“He’s got to,” Wilson said about his project partner. “If we don’t get it this year, he’s got to get it for me next year.”

Although Wilson, who will be attending McNeese State College in Lake Charles, intends to return when he can to assist.

“We didn’t go to state for football, so we had to get there somehow,” he joked.

In addition to the praise from their educators and classmates, Stoever and Wilson received an additional vote of support.

“I’m really proud of the work that the students did on the ‘Great Trade Robbery,’” Johnson said. “They were thorough and did an excellent job. They make Port Arthur proud!”