Monthly Archives: February 2015

Site Changes

Eight days until I fly to Ravensburg, Germany… actually I’m flying to Zurich, Switzerland and being driven by someone to Ravensburg. I decided it was time to make a few changes to the site, so hopefully not confuse my new European readers. The site can now be reached from either Texasfootballroadtrip.com or Eurofootballroadtrip.com.

I have also added a Euro football links page to the top of the homepage where you can find the Ravensburg Razorbacks website and other Euro football information. The new menu also has a quick link to info about Big and Bright.

For my Texas friends, I hope you’ll stay with me. I will be marketing Big and Bright shortly after my return from Germany. We are working on getting the galley out (The edition given to reviewers, I’m told) and the release of the book is still scheduled for August. I will continue to post news about Big and Bright here. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy my stories about football in Europe, I’m not there yet, but I can promise that its a very different experience than Texas.

I’ll be writing regularly when I get to Europe… So until next time GO RAZORBACKS!!!

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More on La Marque

It’s definitely not a happy story, but maybe I was a little too negative about the eventual outcome. Coach Jackson told me today via email that the appeal may be won and that the school COULD stay open, but be absorbed by neighboring district (Maybe putting the school in a better place than it is now).

From the Houston Chronicle today:

LA MARQUE _ It’s Monday morning and Mike Jackson is still working.

Now in his fourth year as the athletic director and head football coach at La Marque, Jackson is sitting at his desk. A crowded email inbox is on display on his computer screen, and assorted papers rest on his desk.
He’s heard the same news everyone else has – the Texas Education Agency sent notice to three school districts including La Marque last week, ordering their closures by the summer unless the district successfully appeals.

But by the afternoon, Jackson and his staff have the Cougars going through their offseason workouts. They’re coming off another 11-win season, their fourth in five years, and are locked into getting better.

“Part of what football teaches you is you’re going to get knocked down, you’re going to have setbacks and there’s going to be obstacles put in front of you,” Jackson said. “So what are we going to do on a daily basis? Are we going to lay down, curl up and hope everything is all right? Or are we going to take a step back, take a deep breath, evaluate what’s going on and then go back to work?

“Really, that’s the only thing I know how to do.”

At a special town hall meeting Sunday, La Marque superintendent Terri Watkins said the district plans to file its appeal Tuesday.

There haven’t been any announced plans on what would happen to students should the district close. More than likely, a neighboring district or districts would take over.

That was the case with North Forest ISD, which Houston ISD took control over on July 1, 2013 after the beleaguered district went through years of trouble and multiple attempts to stay open. North Forest High School is still in use, as are the athletic facilities.

But North Forest didn’t have the athletic tradition that La Marque does — few schools do — and that’s what made Friday’s announcement by the TEA so different.

La Marque’s football program has five state championships since 1995 and 10 finals appearances since 1986. The Cougars were in the state finals as recently as five years ago. The boys basketball team reached the state tournament in 2011.

But Jackson acknowledges sports aren’t the starting or ending point in an ordeal that isn’t done.

“This is way bigger than football,” he said. “When you first hear it, you hear shutdown. But there’s a whole process that has to play out.”

This didn’t happen overnight at La Marque. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams planning on revoking the district’s accreditation and closing it down comes after years of academic and financial struggles.

It received the state’s lowest academic ratings in 2011 and 2013-14 (no ratings were issued in 2012). It also earned a substandard financial rating for the 2011-12 school year.

The district has also dealt with shrinking enrollment. A number of Galveston County school districts have open enrollment, so it isn’t unusual for students living in La Marque ISD, for example, to attend schools in Dickinson, Hitchcock and Texas City.

“We have operated with distractions and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of here,” Jackson said. “We’re 41-11 operating with distractions for the past four years. It’s one of those things where you assume it’s La Marque, so on the outside looking it, it might be easy to win games over here when in fact, it’s incredibly hard in the environment that we’ve operated under.

“That’s why I’m very proud of the men that have been here the last four years.”

And for now, Jackson and his staff are still coaching, and the Cougars are still working. (Jackson declined to have his players available for interviews on Monday.)

“If my son was playing and in this program right now,” Jackson said, “I would want the person sitting in this chair to do right by him and make sure that he’s not only the best player, but the best person he can be for the 2015 football season and get him prepared for that. So in that vein, nothing’s changed – you don’t just stop and feel sorry for yourself.

“You dust yourself off, you keep moving forward and you see what comes around the corner.”

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Goodbye La Marque High?

The first team I wrote about in Big and Bright was La Marque High School.  La Marque is a struggling working-class town outside of Galveston. In addition to writing about the proud, five-time state champion football program, I spoke about how the poor economy, local politics and the Texas education bureaucracy put the continued viability of La Marque High School in question.

From Big and Bright:

 Whether La Marque High School will still exist 10 years from now is an open question. Rumors of the state taking over or the school shutting down are common in Galveston County. The perception is that La Marque is failing. Some wonder if the kids might be better served by closing the high school and sending them to Texas City High School a few miles up the road.
The poor economy helped lead the school to this perilous place. Political infighting among the school board, the superintendent and community leaders have also caused friction. The Galveston Daily News regularly reports on squabbles within the community. The source of the fighting is hard to follow, but it reads like a soap opera and makes good copy. From the outside, the stories show a town tearing itself apart
Recently, a school bond has been proposed to raise operating funds for the cash strapped district. Instead of “pulling on the same rope,” La Marque is fighting aboard a sinking ship. The bond faces an uphill battle. Accusations of incompetence, of a district that refuses to cut fat from its budgets have been made. Locals claim that poor test scores by the district’s students indicate poor management. All this conveniently ignores the societal and economic factors that make success for the LMISD so difficult.
The third and perhaps most dangerous threat to the existence of LMISD might be the State of Texas itself…

Football is the one thing that binds La Marque High School and the entire community together. Remarkably, when asked what would happen to the school without its football program, people from the superintendent down question if the school could survive at all. Knowing the struggles of this place, from funding to testing to the infighting within this town, it’s hard to doubt that La Marque High School might not exist except for football.

I looks like the fight to keep La Marque open may have come to an end. It was announced last week that the La Marque school district would lose its accreditation and the schools will be officially closed in July. The district will appeal, but stopping the momentum that has been building for years seems unlikely.

Who’s to blame? I can come up with a lot of culprits. A standardized testing system in Texas that reduces the effectiveness of schools to raw numbers, a dysfunctional La Marque government and school board that seemed to spend more time squabbling amongst them than trying to fix the problems and finally the way we fund public education in this country. Funding with local property taxes and bond issues don’t  give aging and struggling districts like La Marque the resources of more affluent areas.

While La Marque is an extreme example, the same factors hurt public education in my district in Nevada and, I’m sure, nationwide.

Who’s NOT to blame. The teachers and coaches of the LMISD. Most work very hard and care about their students. This is certainly true of those I met, coaches who chose La Marque despite the toughest teaching load of any school I visited. The kids, teachers and coaches were let down by the system.

I’ll continue to hope for a miracle. I’m sad to see this kind of end to a school with so much tradition and pride.

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