COLLEGE GOLF: Golfing community rallies around the University of the Southwest

Mar. 17—Odessa College golf coach Paul Chavez woke up around 3 a.m. Wednesday to various texts and links that left him in shock.

He was informed by his volunteer coach that a van carrying members of the University of the Southwest's men's and women's golf teams was involved in a fatal accident Tuesday night near Andrews.

"This is something that you want no one to go through," Chavez said. "It is a coach's worst nightmare to go through an event like this; I definitely feel for everyone."

Nine people died in the accident where a pickup truck crossed into oncoming traffic and collided with the van head on.

Six athletes were among the confirmed fatalities along with first-year coach Tyler James, who was driving the team from a competition held earlier in Midland.

Odessa College and the University of the Southwest were among the 13 men's teams competing at the TankLogix Invitational at Ranchland Hills Golf Club, playing 36 holes in the tournament's first day.

The University of the Southwest also competed against three other women's teams in the tournament.

Chavez described the collegiate golf community as one big, happy family, so he had already started building a connection with James.

The veteran coach said he met James about a month ago and gave him advice on how to approach recruiting and program building.

"He was young and eager, definitely had a love for the game and love for college golf," Chavez said. "[He] wanted to obviously pursue great things in the game."

James had taken over the University of the Southwest's golf programs in after coaching the boys golf team at Brownwood High.

His career had also seen him excel in assistant and graduate assistant roles at Howard Payne University and East Texas Baptist University before making the move to the high school ranks.

"Even though it was the early stages of our friendship, I thought he was a great guy," Chavez said.

Midland College coach Walt Williams had known James since his time as a collegiate athlete, maintaining the bond up until the day of the accident.

Williams was excited when James landed his first head coaching gig, answering any questions the new leader had before the season started.

"We got to be friends and was very excited to see him [Tuesday], visit with him and see how his team played," Williams said. "He was upbeat and positive, just a great young man."

The University of the Southwest's men's team (300-303—603) finished the tournament's opening round in 13th, with Midland College in first and Odessa College in second.

A press release from Midland College stated that the TankLogix Invitational's final round had been canceled after the accident.

Before traveling to Midland, the University of the Southwest's men's team had hosted the Rockwind Invitational at Rockwind Community Links in Hobbs, N.M.

Chavez said he and his golfers gathered for breakfast Wednesday to see how everyone was handling the situation.

"Obviously lives were taken and it affects everyone in a different way," Chavez said. "I wanted to make sure my team was dealing with it properly and if someone needed some help, we're definitely going to offer them some help.

"All of them indicated to me that they were good and they're fine, we're going to deal with it as a group and as a team."

The Wranglers will now look to support and pay tribute to the University of the Southwest with navy blue and red ribbons on their golf bags.

Midland College's men's golf team showed its support for the Mustangs via an Instagram post, leaving the scoreboards up for the University of the Southwest's men's and women's teams at the Ranchland Hills Golf Club.

Williams and his team met with several other coaches and players Wednesday morning at the course where they were set to compete to pray and offer each other comfort.

Through tears and red eyes, Williams reminded his players to be grateful for the time they have.

"I was just telling them to cherish every day and be grateful that you have the opportunity to play golf, the beautiful sunshine and develop relationships that will last you a lifetime," Williams said. "You never know when that time's going to end."

GoFundMe pages were also set up to aid funeral expenses for Fort Stockton's Karissa Raines and medical expenses for Dayton Price, who was one of two athletes airlifted to Lubbock's University Medical Center.

"We want to definitely share our condolences but we also want to share our support," Chavez said. "Those kids were working hard to be the best they could be in college golf, just like our guys are so we shared the same goals.

"We want to be there for them as well."