Big and Bright- Chapter Five Excerpt: Aledo Bearcats

cover of B & B

…One of the biggest obstacles Aledo will face in 2012 is their district schedule. Not because the schedule is challenging, but too soft. In previous years, Aledo had been in a district with schools to the west, a very competitive group including rival and perennial power Stephenville. After redistricting, however, Aledo was put in a new district made primarily of Fort Worth ISD schools. If there’s a weakness in the Texas public school athletic system, it’s the deterioration of big city school districts. Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Houston are the four largest districts in the state. Their athletic programs have the minimum all schools in the state have, full-time professional coaches with athletic periods. These minimums would be excellent anywhere else, but not in Texas. What these districts don’t have is much support.
Many of these schools have transient and low income students. They are huge, with levels of bureaucracy separating administration from individual schools. It’s a truism that the greater the number of schools administration oversees the less those schools are treated as individual, unique places. Numbers and stats become the measuring stick for success. Extra-curricular and athletic programs are increasingly sacrificed to focus instead on improving those stats. This is a dynamic I recognize from my experience in Washoe County (a district with 18 high schools)…
…Because these neglected programs don’t have much public or parental interest, superintendents aren’t pressured to make them successful. The Fort Worth ISD is one of the few in the state where the hiring of football coaches is not the responsibility of the superintendent’s office at all, but left to high school principals…

…Great teams occasionally spring from places with lack of support, but over the long term, good programs can’t survive where people don’t care about them. I’m sure a lot of good people work in the big ISDs, but fight uphill battles.
Texans often asked me what high school football looks like elsewhere. I always point to big city ISDs. This is where Texas is headed if the great support most of the state enjoys ever disappears…
…Practice at Aledo starts at 7:20. With athletic period scheduled during first period, this gives the Bearcats almost two hours before they hit the showers and get ready for class. They started early practices a few years ago when they moved to the new artificial turf stadium, and no longer had to worry about morning dew ruining footballs.
Mornings have several advantages. The Bearcats avoid early season heat. Even on the hottest days, it’s pleasant at this hour. This schedule also allows flexibility afterschool; lifting, watching game and practice film, working on special teams and polishing rough spots are all done. After school is also when the sub-varsity practices.
Football practices often take the personality of the head coach. Buchanan is professional and relaxed and this is the vibe of mornings at Bearcat Stadium. Position groups stretch in little circles around their coaches while the coaches discuss details of the game plan or any other needs. Buchanan strolls from group to group, an insulated coffee cup in hand, checking attendance. Aledo is one of two programs I cover who practice to music. During stretching the songs are soft and mellow, the type of music you’d like to wake up to. With the sun rising over the far end zone, the feeling is relaxed and loose as a buzzer marks the start of the first timed segment at 7:35.
The morning is meticulously scheduled. On offensive, nine minutes are assigned for individuals, a two minute water break, outside hull for nine minutes, two minute water, then inside team for nine, another 12 minute team session, eight minutes of red zone and 10 minutes of crossover, letting the few defensive players who contribute on offense work on their skills. To mark the time, the scoreboard has been programmed to countdown each segment.
Aledo has very good numbers. Between 180 and 240 kids from freshmen through varsity play football in this school of 1,344 students. This morning about 120 are here. Varsity players wear white jerseys and have orange Aledo “A”s on their helmets and four small Texas outlines denoting Bearcats state championships, the JV kids are in black and have no helmet decals. During inside run, the varsity runs two separate offensive units vs. two JV defensive scout teams. Across midfield, at the same time, the starting defense works against two JV offensive groups. One offense runs a play while the other huddles and reads the next play from a binder held by one of the coaches. The huge number of JV players gives the varsity many reps in a short time.
Stationed around the field are 12 student-trainers with caddies of six water bottles. Above the field, near the pressbox, two students film the activities, one focused on the offensive end of the field and one on the defense…

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