Last fall, when former Cooper High School defensive back Aaron Byrd brought his family back to Abilene to watch Abilene High and Cooper play in the Crosstown Showdown at Shotwell Stadium, he watched and remembered and dreamed.
He watched two young men lead their respective teams in what would eventually be a 14-10 Abilene High victory.
He remembered what it was like to get ready for and to play in that game when he was a Cougar from 1998-2000. And he dreamed about putting together a scholarship that would go to one player from each team – a scholarship with enough weight to make a difference in that player’s life as he counted the cost of paying for a college education.
“Being back home for that game brought back a lot of memories regarding what was a once-in-a-lifetime formational experience for me growing up in Abilene and West Texas and getting to play in the crosstown game,” said Byrd, who was the valedictorian of his 2001 graduating class. “The game is continuing to change lives to this day. Not just for the young men playing the game but also for the Abilene community in attendance.
“That night was quite a moving experience – not just for me now as a 40-plus-year-old dad – but also for my kids,” he said. “My boys thinking about one day getting to play and be a part of such a game and all of the positive aspirations, work, and training it can inspire. I was moved not just by my kids aspiring to play under the Friday night lights one day, but my mind also flipped to what would come next for the players on the field. I left the game wanting to find a way to be in their corner during their next steps in life in whatever way I could.”
What became of that night was the Crosstown Rivals Scholarship, which was given to Chris Warren (2023 Cooper graduate) and Noah Hatcher (2023 Abilene High graduate) in early September. Byrd consulted with the Abilene Education Foundation, which was instrumental in putting together the scholarship that will pay out $6,000 per year to each student-athlete ($24,000 over four years).
Abilene High head coach Mike Fullen and Cooper head coach Aaron Roan were asked to nominate five players from their 2022 rosters currently playing at the collegiate level, and those lists were reviewed and rated by COOL College Advisors. Then, the AEF Scholarship Committee met to review the recommendations and determine the recipients.
Those two recipients are undoubtedly grateful for the gift from the Byrd family (Aaron and his wife, Grace Jones Byrd).
“Honestly, I was shocked,” said Hatcher, now a defensive back at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. “I’m very thankful to the Byrd family and the other people involved in the process. This scholarship represents a lot of money and having an extra $3,000 each semester helps so much.”
Warren echoed Hatcher’s sentiment.
“I couldn’t believe I had just received at that moment,” said Warren, a wide receiver at Hardin-Simmons University whose father, Alvin Warren, played with Byrd at Cooper. “It felt like a huge weight was lifted off my and my family’s shoulders.”
Warren will get an extra reward because he’s playing at one of the three local universities that field college football teams. During his freshman year, he will receive $6,000 per semester, making his award $30,000 over four years.
After graduating from Cooper, Byrd earned his Bachelor of Arts from Harvard in 2005, his Master of Divinity from Harvard in 2011, and his MBA from Harvard in 2013.
Now working as a commodities trader in Houston, he plans to make this an annual scholarship for one former AHS and one former CHS football player. And he wants the ensuing recipients to model the traits he’s found in the inaugural winners.
“Noah and Chris embody what it means to be student-athlete leaders in every respect,” Byrd said. “They were captains on their respective teams, and most importantly, they were leaders on and off the field, in the classroom, and their community. They did things the right way during high school and are role models to many.
“I hope Noah and Chris have very successful college careers and continue to inspire and give back to another generation of student-athlete leaders,” he continued. “I hope and pray that both Noah and Chris continue to impact the world in positive ways as they have already done and that future award recipients will do the same.”