Longform

Wrong Time, Wrong Place

Meyson Garcia was a student at St. Pius, where he played on the football team and got pretty good grades. But during the summer before his junior year, he got more involved with Young Life, a Christian program for youth in his neighborhood which headquartered at nearby Waltrip High School. He made a lot of friends there who urged him to transfer to Waltrip.

He talked to his dad Alson about moving into the public school system. Alson had graduated years before from Waltrip himself, thought it was a pretty good school and agreed. So in fall 2011, his son — the "St. Pius kid," as he came to be known — moved on over.

And that's why on Thursday, September 1, Meyson was at a varsity football game between Waltrip and Pasadena at Delmar Stadium in which Waltrip was getting its butt kicked. The 5'10", 180-pound junior wasn't suited up — he hadn't made varsity; he was on the JV squad — but was in the stands watching with his father and friends.

Toward the end of the game, Meyson went down to the front of the stands, he says, to say some words of encouragement to a friend on the varsity squad. He eventually jumped down to the field and climbed over a waist-high concrete barrier placed along the sidelines to get closer.

He didn't know it, but this was a big mistake. The Waltrip Code of Conduct doesn't allow bystanders on the sidelines. It didn't matter that he was on JV, or that he wasn't the only kid who'd ever done this at a game.

Tempers were running hot. One varsity player yelled at Meyson, telling him to get off the field, adding something about "You need to keep your white ass off the field, white boy," Meyson says. "Meyson told him okay, but that he is actually Mexican," Alson says. There are disputed accounts over whether Meyson said anything else in return — one witness says Meyson had an attitude because he hadn't made varsity; Meyson and his father say no, they understood all along that he'd never make it immediately after transferring.

The part that everyone can agree on is that Meyson promptly got back in the stands and that two brothers who played on the team, and who hadn't been involved in either of Meyson's conversations, came into the stands after him and started beating on him, one swinging his helmet at Meyson and punching him in the stomach, the other punching him in the face.

The fight got broken up, and everyone was separated. Initial statements were taken all round, and photographs were made of Meyson's bruised face (no one else was injured in the fracas.) Everybody went home to rest and recover.

The next day, Friday, Meyson spent almost entirely in Assistant Principal Lori Frodine's office, giving his statement to school officials and school Police Officer Reggie Washington. Washington issued Meyson a Class C misdemeanor citation — just like the other two boys got — for "disrupting a school activity."

By the following Tuesday, right after the Labor Day holiday, Meyson was at afternoon football practice when his dad drove over from work, walked on the field and told him he'd been suspended (along with the two brothers) and would not be coming back to school for the rest of the week.

Suspended from school and looking at a court date a month down the road — all of a sudden, Meyson's move to the public school system from the more sheltering confines of St. Pius was looking like a gamble that hadn't paid off.
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Waltrip High is neither the worst nor the best high school in HISD. In 2009, it reached "recognized" status with the Texas Education Agency, but by 2011 it had dropped back to "academically acceptable."

The school does take its football seriously, as a page from the school's playbook entitled "2011 Waltrip Ram Defense" asks in all caps: "CAN WE PLAY INTELLIGENT IN A VIOLENT FRAME OF MIND?" Rule 10 cites "adjectives to describes us: 'mean, reckless, aggressive, fearless, intimidating.'"

Rule No. 9 requires: "At least 10 hits on the QB and ANY THAT START DO NOT FINISH." Wow — this is a call to what? Put severe hurt on a quarterback? Are we talking the high school version of pro football's bounty system? (When contacted, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer sighed, called it "typical high-school bravado" and added, "Of course we wouldn't condone anyone encouraging students to try to hurt one another. I'm not aware of anyone coming forward to accuse Waltrip of doing that.")

The goal was the district championship, which, late on that September 1 night, didn't seem too possible.

Alson Garcia never saw his son as anything but the victim; what the school calls a "fight," he labels "an attack." The first warning he had that those in authority might hold a different view came from the two Delmar security guards on Thursday night, who told him: "They were sorry that Meyson was assaulted and that it appeared to them that he had done nothing to provoke the attack. They also told me I needed to go to Meyson's school immediately and set things right to make sure Meyson was not punished for this event."

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing