Grace Community High School Head Football Coach Mike Maddox said he uses the inflatable tunnel his team runs through Friday nights to build the school’s relationship with the community.
Maddox said a Grace senior class from two years ago gifted the school with the tunnel. “We use it as a way to connect with the community,” he said.
At football games across East Texas each fall and throughout the state, you see the teams run through them as they enter the field for a night of battle — those inflatable tunnels, football helmets and mascots that grace one end of the stadium. Some also have a fog machine to add to the effect.
Two other coaches in the Tyler area said their teams enjoy the inflatables and that the students feel special as they spill through the tunnels and onto the field for a game.
Bullard ISD Athletic Director Shannon Wilson, also the head football coach who is in his third season, said his school always has had a tunnel.
“It’s another thing to make them feel special — they really enjoy it,” he said Friday.
Mike Hall, head football coach at All Saints Episcopal School in Tyler, said his school received an inflatable tunnel last year. He said once other schools began using the inflatable tunnels and mascots, his team wanted to use one.
“The guys were pumped up about it — the team likes running through it,” Hall said on Friday. The 20-foot tunnel has the school’s colors and the team’s name on it.
“Out of every 20 Texas schools that have an inflatable tunnel or mascot, one is not ours,” Ms. Oliver said Friday.
The company is the only manufacturer of the inflatable items that exists now in Texas, and they make products for use worldwide, Ms. Oliver said. The other manufacturers that used to be in Texas sold out to Chinese manufacturers some years ago, she said.
The tunnels can range from $2,695 for the 15 foot to $3,295 for a 25-foot tunnel for a 4A or 5A school, she said. The cost includes the fog machine and any custom designs the school wants.
“We go through several design processes,” Ms. Oliver said.
Often, it is booster clubs, alumni groups and sometimes individuals, including coaches that offer to pay for the inflatables, she said.
Schools in the Tyler area and all over East Texas have purchased the tunnels and mascots, which come in a package about the size of a medium suitcase, and are inflated in just a few minutes, Ms.
Oliver said. Individuals from schools as far away as Louisiana make the drive to Garland to pick up the packages to avoid paying the shipping costs, she said.
And it’s not only football teams that enjoy the tunnels — basketball and track teams enjoy them, too. “We make a tunnel that has mist inside of it for the students who run track in the summer, and up north, the inside of the tunnels are heated,” Ms. Oliver said.