What Price Glory?

In an era when booster dollars give high school football teams a high-tech edge, scratching out a winning season gets tougher and tougher

"All this stuff has been bought by our booster club," says Thompson. "It's changed a lot since back in the day. You gotta stay up with the technology."

Yet even Katy boosters pale in comparison to that of The Woodlands High School. According to records received from Conroe ISD, The Woodlands Football Booster Club has seen its total annual income for grades seven through 12 grow in the past three years from $219,000 to $293,000 to $347,000 in 2003-2004. Just 1.2 percent of its students are classified by the state as economically disadvantaged -- the lowest ratio of any local 5A school that made the playoffs last year. During that run, The Woodlands Highlanders advanced to the Division I state championship against North Shore.

The Woodlands' most recent booster budget lists more than $30,000 for a banquet, $110,000 for field house improvements, $28,000 in scholarships, and $17,000 for travel and entertainment purposes.

The Katy booster club helped supply the Tigers' video 
Troy Fields
The Katy booster club helped supply the Tigers' video equipment.
Matt Malatesta wrote a book on North Shore's 2003 
championship season.
Troy Fields
Matt Malatesta wrote a book on North Shore's 2003 championship season.

"With the number of players we have, a booster club is vital to our existence," explains Woodlands head coach Mark Schmid. The program had 450 players this year on eight different teams, and he says their goal is to make sure every student who wants to play football at The Woodlands has that opportunity.

Ray Evans, head football coach at Yates High School for the past three years, can only shake his head and flash an easy smile when contemplating such resources.

Yates is a Third Ward school where 73 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and the surrounding area has a median household income of $20,000. The Yates team has a booster club, too. In a normal year, Evans says, it will raise about $5,000.

Yates won its last state championship 20 years ago, and in a cramped, aging training room, the dusty trophies are lined up along a high shelf. The weights are browning with rust, the faded chalkboards come in a retro orange color, and the team gathers around one TV with two VCRs to watch tape. On Thursdays during the season, when the junior teams take up the practice field for home games, Evans says, the varsity team has to practice on a baseball field full of divots.

Then there's the issue of coaching staff.

"We have eight coaches, counting myself. Foster High School's got, like, 15 coaches," Evans says of their first-round opponent. He later adds, "Back two or three weeks ago, Foster, they were sending their [coaches] out, scouting our games. And we don't have the money or the means to do anything like that. Boy, I could go on and on. It's just a big, big discrepancy."

As it turned out, the Yates Lions got past Foster, 21-17. (And, technically, Foster has only 13 coaches.) One week later, though, the Lions fell to Marshall High School of East Texas in a game where Evans says he counted more than 20 coaches and 110 players suited up.

"I don't even have 110 uniforms to suit them all out in the same color," he says.

Cory Jiles, head football coach at HISD's Stephen F. Austin High School, faces the same uphill battle. "Just from the coaching aspect, look at that individual attention that those kids are getting from having such a large manpower number, as opposed to trying to spread out six guys among a freshman, JV and a varsity team," says Jiles.

Compensation may be another factor in the coaching disparity. At Katy High School, according to the district's communications director, the stipends range from $2,800 for assistants to $10,000 for the head coach on top of their teaching salaries. By comparison, the head coach at Yates receives about a $5,000 stipend.

Without question, the size of a program makes a huge difference in both the depth of the talent pool and the needs of the team. Katy averages 310 players across its varsity, JV, sophomore and two freshman teams, as opposed to Yates, which has one-third of those bodies lined up at three levels.

Evans flatly links Yates's football decline from previous decades to dwindling enrollment. The school once had more than 3,000 students on its rolls, but now there are only 1,400. Yates was recently dropped from 5A-level competition (for schools with more than 1,925 students) to 4A.

Beyond the numbers, though, there are other, intangible factors that lend themselves to sports success in well-to-do communities.

"I think you see it when you look at a program like Southlake Carroll," says Dave Stephenson, a contributor to Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine. "It's a very wealthy suburb, and they're the No. 1 school in 5A. They're the No. 1 school in the country. The demographics are very high income, upper-class income. What you find in a suburb like that, when your parents are in an income bracket like that, you're able to pay for more summer camps, conditioning. You often have a two-parent household that can be more conducive to success. I think you see that at Katy, The Woodlands, Southlake Carroll, Austin Westlake."

Coaches say that at less wealthy schools, many students have to work part-time jobs on top of school and sports. "That's almost 90 percent of my team," says Jiles. "They have to help out, supplement income in their homes." His Austin High School has a 92 percent rate of economically disadvantaged students. In 2004, they finished 0-10 in District 21-5A football. At Katy, on the other hand, coach Gary Joseph says that no more than a dozen of his kids work during the year.

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