FAIR OAKS RANCH — Trash turned into treasure for Dean Defendorf, a recent Boerne-Champion High School graduate who received a scholarship from the Don’t mess with Texas campaign.
The 19-year-old was awarded an $8,000 college grant for leading his institution’s fellow golfers on multiple cleanups of a two-mile stretch of Texas 46 as part of the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program.
“A lot of athletes never really got involved with community service. This was just an easy way — because I was on the golf team — to just directly influence my teammates to give back a little bit,” Defendorf said.
He’s grateful the award can help his parents with his tuition costs, Defendorf said. His former coach is also proud of the achievement.
“I was very happy when he got that scholarship,” said Jason Sweatman, the head golf coach. “It couldn’t go to a more deserving kid. He puts everybody else first.”
Defendorf organized his teammates, coach and parents to collect more than 150 bags of litter along the highway three miles east of the school.
The ensemble spruced the roadway at least four times a year, often early on Sunday mornings. The largest cleanup enlisted more than 20 volunteers.
In mid-August, Defendorf left to attend Texas A&M University in College Station to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering.
Scholarship organizers received 330 submissions this year from Texas high school seniors planning to pursue a degree at a two- or four-year accredited state college or university.
“He set an example for both adults in his community and for his fellow students that litter belongs in a trash can, not on the side of Texas roads,” said Becky Ozuna, Don’t mess with Texas campaign manager.
As a junior, Defendorf came up with the idea to collect refuse; by the summer of 2018, just before his senior year, he held the first outing.
“It definitely did bring us all together. Made our relationships stronger,” said A.J. Finger, 19, a former teammate now attending Blinn College to study agriculture business.
Each time, the road crew gathered 30 to 40 bags of rubbish, ranging from pieces of tires to soda cans and cardboard.
“It was just different than just going out on the golf course and playing. We were able to do something else that benefited the environment and our community,” Finger said.
The collected garbage was left by an Adopt-A-Highway sign marked “Champion Golf Team,” where Don’t mess with Texas staff properly disposed of it from there.
Champion’s golfers wanted to do something to help the neighborhood, realizing very soon the extent of the litter problem.
“If we just keep letting it build up like that, eventually the grass will die and trees won’t grow,” Defendorf said.
Sweatman said Defendorf’s behind-the-scenes diligence created a local presence.
“It makes us look good. We’ve gotten several letters from representatives about our community service and it’s all because he decided to put his name forward,” the coach said.
According to a recent study, 362 million pieces of visible trash accumulate on Texas roadways yearly, Ozuna said.
“Unfortunately, litter is a big problem in Texas. One in four Texans admit to having littered in the past,” added Ozuna.
Junior Jacob King, 17, another Champion golfer, will now lead the effort. Defendorf, meanwhile, hopes to start something similar in college, especially since he’s a Corps of Cadets member, he said.
During his last year at Champion, Defendorf was president of the National Honor Society and held a campus cleanup. He was also active with student council.