SHINER — When a good Texan dies, he or she probably goes to a place with easy- going days, quiet nights, friendly neighbors, great beer and football played to perfection.
If you aren't dead, you can find all of that here, in the crown jewel of Lavaca County, the spiritual center of the Texas Czech universe and the buckle of the Central Texas Kolache Belt.
The town of 2,070 — mostly friendly folks, but with a few old sore heads — is home of the Spoetzel Brewery, which makes Shiner Bock, the nation's best mass-marketed beer.
As for the football, the town still has two high schools alive in their respective state playoffs. Even more surprising, both are undefeated.
The Shiner St. Paul Cardinals (13-0) will play Cedar Hill Trinity Christian (10-3) in the TAPPS Division III state title game on Friday in Bastrop. The Shiner High Comanches (13-0) have a rematch against district mate Refugio (11-2) in the UIL Class 2A Division I state quarterfinals at Alamo Stadium on Friday. Shiner won the first meeting 30-19 back in October.
It's novel that a town this size has two high schools, much less a private school that also fields an 11-man team that dominates its opponents.
Comanches head coach Steve Cerny told me at the beginning of the season that the town's adults have a great work ethic that's passed down to their kids. Cardinals coach Jake Wachsmuth agreed.
"Shiner is a unique community," Wachsmuth said. "It's very traditional. It's family-oriented. All of the kids who live here are always busy doing something."
The success of the two high schools proves how unusual this situation is. Without parental support and kid involvement, the Catholic high school wouldn't exist.
Morgan Tyree, a Wyoming photographer who has been documenting small-town football in that state for 20 years, says it's a community's "Third Place," a term used by urban planners and sociologists that refers to a common space where folks gather outside of home and work, which are their first and second places.
Parents sit in the stands or line the fences and talk with each other, Tyree said, either about the game or their daily lives.
It's the same in small-town Texas. This is the concept of Friday Night Lights that predates the mega-football powers in Midland, Odessa and the suburbs of Dallas and Houston.
Football in those places is about winning and Division I college scholarships.
Football here is about town pride and participation. Perfect seasons are gravy.
"Everyone at the game knows the kids playing," says Shiner mayor Fred Henry Hilscher. "Either their kids or their grandkids played together with them."
This is even more pronounced in Shiner. In most towns with two schools — New Braunfels, for example — the teams are rivals. But in Shiner, the two teams see themselves as comrades.
"They're all friends," said Bobby Patek, who runs Patek Grocery. "They grew up together. They may not go to school together, but the kids root for each other."
Patek's store windows show the town's unity. As is the case with other businesses in Shiner, there are hand-painted messages of support for both schools.
Once, when Shiner had an open date, some Comanches band members showed up at the St. Paul game to help the Cardinals' band play.
As I wrote earlier this season, it helps that both schools use "The Shiner Song" as the fight song. And if you'll remember, "The Shiner Song" stands out because it's a polka. It's even got an alternate set of Czech lyrics, if you prefer.
The schools also stand alone as outliers in today's Texas because they play traditional, ground-and-pound offensive football and fundamental defense. By "fundamental," I mean that Cardinals and Comanches defenders don't launch themselves like missiles in order to blow up a ball carrier. They wrap up with their arms and drive their head through the tackle.
Oh yeah. Then there's the whole "undefeated" thing.
"We take a lot of pride in our town," said Jed Janecek, Cardinals senior running back and defensive end. "That's what drives us."
I get that. Unlike schools in San Antonio or the 'burbs, Shiner teams don't compete with the Spurs, UTSA or any other sporting entity. For Shiner, the Cardinals and Comanches are the only game in town. For players, everyone they know is either watching them play or will want to hear about their game when the other school's game is over.
No situation is perfect, however. Even Shiner has one unavoidable obstacle.
"You can't be in two places at once," Patek said. "That's a big problem."
Roy Bragg / email@example.com / Twitter: @roybragg