The men’s club volleyball team honors late teammate in upcoming season

Elizabeth Lara

The men’s volleyball club players are preparing for their first set, the crowd is cheering and the opposing team is in position, but their minds are not on the court. Instead, all they can think about is their fallen teammate.

The team is still coping with the death of former club president Michael Purgason, who died in the summer of 2012 in a car accident. Now, every time they step on the court, the players don’t just play for each other, but for Purgason as well.

Purgason began his volleyball career at age 6, following in his sister’s footsteps. Public schools in Texas do not have official men’s volleyball teams, but that did not stop Michael from pursuing his goal. He traveled to different camps throughout his youth and even became a women’s volleyball manager at his high school to stay active in the sport. His experiences eventually led him to become a legend on the UT court.

“Michael was the driving factor when we played,” teammate Chase McKinzie said. “He was the energy on our court.”

Purgason, along with McKinzie, brought the team together by beginning a tradition that the Longhorns still practice to this day. The clap they do every post-play — three claps followed by Texas on the third — signifies the beginning of the next play. This keeps a constant rhythm and energy throughout the game.

Texas finished its season last spring, but the team stayed together to train for this upcoming one with Purgason in mind.

“It was a harsh reality check,” current team president Sammy Ramos said. “It made every single one of us realize we are not invincible. It put things in perspective.”

The Longhorns still struggle to adjust to the sudden change. Every time they play on the court, nostalgia takes over.

“The first year was not the same,” assistant coach Brissa Ochoa said. “He felt like the missing puzzle piece.”

The tragic event has given the team members an opportunity to develop a closer bond with each other. When they share funny stories about Purgason, it is a reminder of why they began playing the sport and why they must continue. The players who knew him still feel him around, and the guys who didn’t have the opportunity to get to know him through the stories the team tells.

“We developed a family bond we didn’t know existed,” Ramos said. “We still keep in contact with his immediate family and we keep them involved.”

The Purgasons still strongly support the volleyball club. They participate in team dinners, community service campaigns and fundraisers. They are the team’s No. 1 fans.

They also began a nonprofit organization, the Michael Gilles Purgason Foundation, in memory of their son. The foundation has been very active and has played a role in funding consultation rooms, UT medical branches in Arlington and the UT volleyball team.

Ramos had a large role to fill when he stepped in for Purgason. But he has tried to reflect Purgason’s legacy through his decisions and leadership.

“Michael and I share the same passions,” Ramos said. “He was obsessed with the game of volleyball and would do anything for the club. I felt like I could be the one to carry the team and I’ve worked hard to compete and take them places. So far, I believe I have been able to accomplish that goal as their leader and we will win this season for Michael.”