When the 83rd Texas Legislature reconvenes at 2 p.m. Monday, one of the state’s most contentious bills will continue its journey toward becoming a law.
Officially, it’s known as Senate Bill 573. Unofficially, it’s the bill causing strife among coaches and educators across the state, a bill that aims to change the landscape of high school athletics.
The bill, authored by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, gives private and parochial schools an opportunity to participate in all University Interscholastic League academic and athletic events except for football and basketball.
The UIL is made up predominantly of public schools, with a few charter schools and two private schools mixed in. The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools currently serves the schools that potentially could join the UIL.
“I can understand where there are some schools out there who would prefer to at least have the option to leave and join the UIL,” Liberty Christian athletic director and football coach Greg Price said. “But I don’t know that the vast majority of the private schools are actually supporting the merging of the two.”
Patrick filed the bill during the 80th, 81st and 82nd legislatures. The bill failed to make it through the House of Representatives all three times.
In 2011, the last time the biennial legislature met, the bill advanced further than it did in 2009. It passed through the state Senate and through a House committee but was never voted on by the House.
If the bill becomes a law, athletic changes will go into effect starting in Class 1A and 2A in the 2013-14 season. The gradual changes will continue until implemented in Class 5A in the 2016-17 school year.
Last week, as the bill progressed and approached passage by the Senate, the Texas High School Coaches Association sent out an e-mail asking its members and “friends of public school athletics” to contact state representatives and express opposition to the bill.
On March 5, the Senate’s education committee met to discuss SB 573. Those who testified in favor of the bill included San Antonio’s the Rev. John Hagee and former NFL wide receiver Alexander Wright.
Hagee said the bill is about choice and equal access to what the public’s tax dollars are paying for and referred to Allen’s $60 million football stadium that was completed last year.
Wright said private and parochial school players are at a disadvantage because college scouts do not give them the same attention as those in public schools.
Hagee also pointed to current UIL members that are registered as charter schools.
“If they can accommodate open-enrollment schools, why can’t they accommodate private and parochial schools?” Hagee testified.
Ryan football coach and athletic director Joey Florence used the example of charter schools as a reason to not allow TAPPS schools into UIL play.
Last fall, Dallas Prime Prep Academy, co-founded by Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, came under severe scrutiny when it entered the UIL in its first year. Four basketball players who transferred to the charter school were ruled ineligible by the UIL to participate in varsity athletics.
Prime Prep withdrew from the UIL in late November. Prime Prep’s boys basketball team finished the year ranked fifth in the nation by USA Today after winning the National Association of Christian Athletes Division I championship.
“I’m not sure what [Patrick] is trying to accomplish, but I’m sure his intentions are good and sounds good, but the reality of it is that private schools and the charter schools are so different than the public schools that it creates an unlevel playing field in sports,” Florence said.
The argument of an unlevel playing field is one that has been made profusely by those against the merging of UIL and TAPPS.
Section 87 of the TAPPS constitution and bylaws states that “For our member schools to survive, it is essential to solicit families to choose one of our member schools to educate their child/children.”
However, solicitation specifically targeting athletes and tampering are forbidden under the TAPPS document.
“We can’t just stand at the finish line and only target kids who finish first in the 100 [meter dash], or those types of things, but we can send information out into the community saying ‘Listen, our doors are open to you; come look at our school,’” Liberty’s Price said.
Another argument made is that allowing them into the UIL would help TAPPS schools that have to travel great distances for district games. Midland Christian is in TAPPS Class 4A District 1, where the closest school is Lubbock Trinity Christian, about two hours away.
Midland Christian football coach and athletic director Greg McClendon said SB 573 is “backhanded” for not including football and basketball, but he added that he isn’t calling for UIL and TAPPS to be merged.
“But if they stick us in there, we’ll be glad to play and all that,” McClendon said. “But we’re sure not beating the drum trying to get into the UIL. And there would be lots of benefits for us, being out here away from all the metroplex schools in our district and stuff. It’d mean a lot less travel.”
McClendon was quick to say that he wouldn’t say anything derogatory about TAPPS.
“It’s like having a girlfriend and you look over and that old girl over there is a little bit prettier,” McClendon said. “You don’t do that to people. You don’t do that to an organization.”
Price, who played against McClendon for years before Liberty moved up to TAPPS’ highest classification, said he doesn’t know how well things would mesh between TAPPS and UIL. And he said he doesn’t care to find out.
“It’s not a place I really want to go,” Price said. “I like the fact that we have the opportunity to pray before games. I don’t know if that changes if you go to UIL.
“That’s not what our school is about. I want to make sure we have the opportunity to continue to do things the way we’ve been doing, and I love the competition that we have in TAPPS and we get stronger every year.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org