ON SPORTS: Don't mess with Texas athletics

March 20, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.
Updated March 20, 2013 at 10:21 p.m.

Never doubt the power of Texas high school football coaches.

Coaches have beaten back numerous attempts to allow private schools to join the University Interscholastic League, the state's governing body for extracurricular activities.

The lone exception came in 2003, when Dallas Jesuit and Houston Strake Jesuit were admitted into the UIL.

The UIL allowed the Dallas and Houston schools to join after the league they competed in disbanded, and the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, the governing body for most private schools, said the two schools were too big to compete with any of its members.

Texas is one of three states with separate athletic championships for public and private schools.

The UIL has about 1,300 members, and TAPPS has about 250 members.

But that hasn't stopped state Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican, from trying to get private schools admitted into the UIL.

Patrick's latest attempt is Senate Bill 573, which would allow private schools to join the UIL in all sports except football and basketball.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by state Sen. Donna Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, was approved of by its committee earlier this month.

Not surprisingly, coaches see the bill as a thinly veiled attempt to get full UIL membership for private schools.

"That's the first step to try and get private schools with public schools," said El Campo athletic director and head football coach Bob Gillis. "I don't think it's good for athletics."

Gillis, who served as president of the Texas High School Coaches Association from 2009-10, is a strong opponent of allowing private schools as members of the UIL.

"Under their present structure," Gillis said, "I don't know how they could abide by UIL rules and still exist."

Gillis noted most private schools have no attendance boundaries, and even if they did, they could still get around the rules by giving grants and scholarships.

Proponents argue some public schools already recruit and that rich school districts have an advantage over poor ones.

But Gillis pointed out many private schools already play public schools, and many prefer to have their own districts and playoff structure.

Gillis gets no argument from Shiner St. Paul's Jake Wachsmuth and St. Joseph's Kevin Auten, although both football coaches said they were offering a personal opinion.

"Having done this at both the private and public schools, I think it should stay separate," said Wachsmuth, who led St. Paul to the TAPPS Division III state championship last season. "I don't think we should start messing with things that are working. I like the system the way it is."

"There are some things I like about the UIL," Auten said. "I wouldn't mind if we were to come into the UIL as our own private school division. We play those schools anyway. I'm hoping that it (the bill) doesn't happen."

UIL coaches are doing their best to prevent Senate Bill 573 from becoming law. The bill was placed on the Senate's intent calendar on Tuesday, but was not there Wednesday.

Gillis contends the present system of athletics has built a following unparalleled around the nation, and he has experienced it first hand.

When the Ricebirds traveled to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington to play Stephenville for the Class 3A, Division I state championship in December, the game drew a bigger crowd than the Houston Rockets game against the Boston Celtics played the same night in Houston.

The combined attendance for the UIL's state championship games was more than 200,000.

The message UIL coaches have for lawmakers is loud and clear: Don't mess with Texas athletics.

Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or mforman@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.



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