The next time you attend a Chisum High School football game, make sure to listen for a loudly ringing cowbell up in the Mustang Field bleachers. Although he has never looked for special recognition, a loud bell and booming yet encouraging voice from Chisum ISD superfan Rick Zant continues to pierce through the air in any and all conditions.
“The only thing I could say is that he would stand in the exact same spot up by the press box, and you would either hear him yell defense or bang his cowbell,” said Cody Dixon, a former Chisum High School football player and 2004 graduate. “It was his voice or the cowbell, and you knew exactly who it was. It didn’t matter if the band was playing, or if people were stomping or yelling, you would hear his voice.”
An impressive attendance streak
To this day, the man who is widely referred to as Mr. Zant has only missed a small handful of Chisum High School football games in a 28-year span, regardless of the team’s record. Win, lose, or draw, Zant’s commitment to supporting Chisum athletics has been both unwavering and inspiring.
“I’ve got some grandkids out in West Texas that have started playing high school football, and I think I’ve been out there three times this year,” Zant said. “We’ve been several times the last two years but, up until that happened, I had missed seven games total that Chisum has played.”
A man who has provided steady support and evokes a desire to succeed
Through each season regardless of the team’s record, Zant’s presence was consistent and his support unwavering. The power of Zant’s positivity has been a key to the Mustang’s success in the program.
“His support helps a whole bunch,” Mustangs senior offensive lineman Jordan Leverett said. “There was one game he missed this season, and it was a totally different atmosphere without him there. I think the bell is honestly just a part of Chisum culture. I couldn’t imagine a Chisum football game without hearing the bell.”
Even decades after his time playing in front of Zant, one coach still feels the same level of pressure to perform as much as he did in 1992.
“When I’m in the press box, I have to walk by him every time. Just him being there and shaking your hand adds pressure because you want to do good for him,” Chisum assistant football coach and past graduate Andy Spear said. “When I played at Chisum, I wanted to do good for him, and the kids now know where Mr. Zant is going to be when they grow up as well.”
Ringing in a new tradition
Zant’s iconic traditions began with what was meant to be a fun and simple gesture. Instead, Zant and a pair of his friends established a significant and ringing part of Chisum ISD sports culture.
“When Chisum first consolidated and started playing football, there were a lot of us that did different things, and there were three of us that built bells. It was just for a cheerleader-type of a deal. From there, it just grew. I make lots of noise and that’s just the way it is,” Zant said. “My goal was to go to those games to be heard. A few years later, we got to a point where we were having an athletic banquet, and I donated the bell that I had that year to be auctioned off at the banquet to raise money. We did that two or three times, but after that, I started giving the bell to my choice of what I referred to as the ‘big nasties’ which would go to the top lineman and linebackers — the kids who don’t get the recognition they deserve. I started making the bell every year and gave the bell to the senior of my choice who was the big nasty that year.”
Even after the bell’s transformation from an industrial pom-pom to a rustic and prestigious award, Zant did not anticipate the bell’s overall magnitude and impact on the community.
“I never thought about it growing to be as big of a thing as it is today,” Zant said. “I gave the bell to a young man and I talked to the high school principal and the head coach to make sure it was a worthy choice on my end.
I went and talked to Bo Wasurick in his first year. I’ve been doing this since 1992,” Zant continued. “I saw him at a basketball game and told him I needed to talk to him. I told him who I had chosen for the bell, and he looked at me and said he had no idea what I was talking about. So we went outside to the foyer and I explained to him what we were doing. He told me we couldn’t do that, and he instead said that it was going to be given away and announced at the athletic banquet. Until then, it was always a private thing between me and the kid. He wanted to make it public, and I had some questions about it, but we went ahead and did it. From then on, that has been how it has gone. The process has remained the same, but it is just a lot more public. I never thought it would be what it is today.”
From a cowbell to a prized artifact, the coveted award’s importance still rings true
The hype surrounding the bell is still through the roof, even in the 29th year of its tradition. Although it is not a glamorous or pristine object, the cowbell represents what it means to play with the heart and tenacity of a Mustang. For Zant, awarding a worthy athlete for their grit and hard work was the driving force in the bell’s annual appearance to Chisum’s athletic banquets.
“It’s just a seven-inch cowbell with a piece of exhaust pipe welded on and some red paint on it. I buy cases of the supplies each year, but I just have one bell ready for each year,” Zant said. “I beat that bell against the stands. So by the time the season is over, the bell is really scarred up — it looks awful. That was the reason I decided to build a new one every year. The first one I built is still on the shelf at the house. I think we did three auctions at the athletic banquets until I started giving them personally to the kids I chose. There was a kid who played ball at a small school in Arkansas after playing at Chisum, and he made some remark about the bell. I told him that if he continues to play like he’s been playing, he would get the bell. And he did. My wife has asked me several times to make a list of all of those young men who won the bell, but I told her, ‘There is no way I could do that.’ Maybe she and my youngest daughter could do it, but there’s no way in the world I could do that.”
A Mustang until the end, the Zant family bleeds gray and red
Zant comes from a Chisum family that lives in a Chisum ISD district. All of Zant’s children attended Del Mar, which later consolidated with West Lamar into Chisum. Zant’s wife, Lynda, taught at the school district for more than 30 years. When the Mustangs football program began in 1992, Zant and two of his friends William Woods and Terry Halbert created the cowbells. Woods’ bell still sits in the school’s trophy case, according to Zant. With that, he knew that he wanted Chisum to be a part of his life for the long haul.
“You know, people graduate and move on, but I couldn’t do it,” Zant said. “I can’t script this kind of deal — it just happened. I couldn’t leave. I just love high school football.”
The bigger picture
Thankfully for Chisum ISD, Zant has not left the bleachers. Instead, he continues to support and encourage the team with the power of positivity, which is just as powerful today as it was in 1992.
“Everyone wants support. Everybody wants to be appreciated. If it’s not important to any of my family and friends, then how long is it going to be important for me? I realize that it’s just a game — I understand that, but it’s not just a simple thing if I am involved. I really enjoy high school football, especially in Texas — there’s no other place,” Zant said. “If I only go because the team is going to win, then I’m not going to go to very many games. But if I go and see them win, it’s just that much better. I just want to support the kids. That’s all of them, too. It’s not just the young men who put their shoulder pads on — that means all of them. There’s a bunch of kids that assemble at football games that don’t put a helmet on, but they’re still there and a part of that team.”
Lasting memories through several generations
Past and present players strongly feel Zant’s presence and impact. Whether Chisum was on the road or at home or was losing by 30 in a freezing cold game or winning by 40 in heavy rain, Zant’s attitude, cheering methods, and impact were all consistent aspects players saw him exude in the stands.
“We knew who he was and whatnot, but we didn’t talk with him as much. His presence, though, never changed. He was always positive, cheering, never negative, and just hearing his voice and that cowbell always gave us a little bit of hope,” Dixon said. “We always knew that someone was behind us no matter what. Through the good times and the bad times, Mr. Zant was always that positive person we could look to, we knew he had our backs and was someone who would always cheer us on.”
“It doesn’t matter what the score is or who you’re playing, he’s always the same. He is cheering you on, he’s normally the first one here, and he never leaves early,” Spear said. “You see the red shirt, you see the bell, and he is always positive. You can hear him saying things like, ‘Hit somebody!’ or, ‘Go Red!’”
A pleasant present and an even brighter future
This season, the Mustangs reached the playoffs for the second time in three seasons following an 11-year hiatus. The team said Zant has a major factor in Chisum’s recent success, and the players are grateful for their superfan.
“Honestly, I wish every school had supporters like him,” Leverett said. “I think it would really help teams improve their play on the field, and it would get more fans in the stands excited. We are lucky to have Mr. Zant on our side.”
Before you attend a Chisum High School football game in 2021, make sure to listen for a loudly ringing cowbell and a booming yet encouraging voice up in the Mustang Field bleachers. There, you will likely see Mr. Zant gearing up for his 30th season as the Mustangs’ number-one fan. For more local news, click here. For the latest sports coverage, click here.