Third Ward High

The 2010 Yates championship team proved nobody does it better.

"It's Yates High School," Mumphery says. "You have some long-standing animosity, and that's just the way it is. I could live to be 150 and it'd still be that way.

"So we have to apologize because our kids have done a good job."

During the playoffs, in its five games before the state tournament in Austin, Yates continued to roll, scoring more than 100 points every game and beating the other teams by an average of more than 40 points. On that Thursday night, as the cops corralled the Lancaster players who pushed and yelled to get at Yates, the team's line never broke.

Ronald Mumphery coached at Yates in the 1980s before returning to the school as principal two years ago.
Bryan Williams
Ronald Mumphery coached at Yates in the 1980s before returning to the school as principal two years ago.
All but two of the Yates players grew up in the Third Ward.
Bryan Williams
All but two of the Yates players grew up in the Third Ward.

"Fuck them," one of the Yates boys said. "Let's tax this ass first."

With that, the players ran out of the tunnel.

"Oooo, ah, Third Ward High. Oooo, ah, Third Ward High." — Yates High School chant

The morning Yates left for the tournament in Austin, Mumphery was already thinking, worrying really, about Lancaster High School. For two days, the principal had been calling around trying to find a game film of the school that Yates was sure to play for the state championship.

He thought someone from Bellaire High School, whose basketball team was nationally ranked by USA Today this year but lost to Lancaster early in the season, had a tape. Mumphery had his secretary track down the man's phone number and finally reached him. He couldn't get it.

"This is Yates High School; ­people don't give us film," Mumphery says. "You don't almost know."

Mumphery does. When the 1985 Yates football team prepared for a state championship game against Odessa Permian — three years before author H.G. Bissinger followed the Permian team for his book Friday Night Lights — Mumphery was an offensive line coach for Yates. The school couldn't get a game film to prepare for Permian, but Yates won the state title, 37-0.

"When I coached here, we won everything we could win," Mumphery says.

Mumphery wears his state championship ring daily, along with the ring he got when Yates was named the high school football team of the decade for the 1980s, as he patrols the hallways at Yates as principal.

But a lot has changed since then.

In the 1980s, when the oil bust hit the city, it took down the Third Ward like much of Houston. In a Houston Press article published in 2000, the author wrote:

"Almeda, a backbone of the ward, was once a primary route into downtown. It stretches from the South Loop east of the Astrodome, skirts the eastern edge of Hermann Park and ends on the north near the central campus of Houston Community College..."

"The end of that era arrived after the broad concrete ribbon of State Highway 288, which now parallels Almeda to the east. While it gave rush-hour Houstonians a new freeway into and out of downtown from the south, 288 stole traffic from the business corridor and crippled its property values. Most of the chain outlets moved to other burgeoning areas. Independent businesses had to fight to hold on."

"That struggle for survival followed an earlier one, when racial barriers finally gave way to new opportunities for blacks in other areas of the region."

"When integration came, blacks kind of wandered off because they didn't have to stay in the Third Ward if they didn't want to," a business owner in the Third Ward told the Press. "People began moving out to the suburbs."

That, combined with an open enrollment policy in Houston that causes Yates to lose 30 percent of its zoned students each year, led to a dwindling population at the high school. As districts in the suburbs, like Katy and Fort Bend County, boomed out of control, Yates shrank.

"They've torn down a lot of apartment complexes, and as you drive through the neighborhood, you see a lot of vacant fields where homes once stood," Mumphery says.

In the mid-'80s, enrollment at Yates hovered around 3,600. Today, the numbers are closer to 1,200. Three of those students are white, 88 are Hispanic, seven are Asian and the rest are black.

And while other areas of the inner city have redeveloped dramatically in the last decade, the Third Ward has, except for a few pockets, remained unchanged. The 2000 Press article described the ward as having streets that "sported boarded-up storefronts and aging buildings." Someone might say the same thing after a trip through the Third Ward today.

The Fourth Ward, for example, is barely recognizable from what it was ten years ago. Residents from low-income housing, such as Allen Parkway Village, were pushed out and the city razed properties. New condos have replaced what was demolished. Midtown boomed with new restaurants and bars, becoming a hot spot for affluent, white, young professionals.

Third Ward residents fought the same kind of change in the mid-2000s, and when developers moved in to buy property, home­owners put up signs in their lawns that said things like, "Third Ward Is Our Home and It Is Not for Sale." Garnet Coleman, the state representative for the area, has repeatedly echoed the same sentiment.

Enrollment at Yates may have dropped, but the school remains a symbol of solidarity in the Third Ward. Mumphery was recently in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky — he moved to Houston in 1981 — sitting at a park bench. He wore a Yates High School ballcap.

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