The recent departure of the athletics director of the University Interscholastic League surprised many across Texas. With a new director of athletics to be named any day, parents should know there are five areas that the new athletics director should consider. This is an important reclassification year that will determine where schools play and what class they compete in.
First and most important, the new AD should continue to build support among Texas high school coaches. Organizations such as the Black Coaches Association and Hispanic Coaches Association have promoted diversity among Texas coaches. The Texas High School Coaches Association and Texas A&M Coaching Academy started the ROCK Mentoring program that focuses on ending the negative trend of coaches leaving the profession within their first five years.
This approach is exactly what is needed. The new AD should focus on supporting coaches and athletics directors’ professional growth, and opportunities for success. For instance, this could include creating a statewide coaching pipeline that would address the coaching shortage that exists in Texas, especially among coaches of color.
Population growth also is problem that the new AD needs to address. The rising number of students in Texas has led to expansion of school districts and the need for a new classification of UIL divisions. There needs to be a call for a new and bigger classification.
But, if created, the new 7A division would build new geographical and operational challenges for school districts. The new AD will need to partner with school districts and administrators to understand how the creation of a new division would affect resources, sports offerings and opportunities for students in the state.
The new AD should continue to bridge the gap between rural and urban schools. Although schools in urban cities get more publicity, a significant number of schools compete at the 4A or lower divisions, with many of these schools in rural areas. The new AD should strengthen support for rural high school athletics departments. One example could be supporting the recruitment of coaches and athletics trainers in hard-to-staff rural areas, improving the student-athlete experience. Support of rural areas would also expand knowledge of and involvement in UIL activities, which would have a positive impact on student-athlete development.
In short, student-athletes in Texas deserve equitable treatment, and often rural schools and communities have been left behind. The new AD should change that.
There is also another problem. Yearly, athletics programs are getting penalized for athletic violations because some adults in leadership roles have failed to follow UIL rules. The new AD should explore expanding current ethics and rules training for high school coaches and athletics directors to include more hours and courses.
Specifically, the UIL should facilitate yearly, mandatory trainings for all adults in leadership roles across all UIL activities, paying special attention to financial and human resources issues involving student-athletes and their families.
Additionally, much of what UIL could create in ethics training materials can be made digitally and easily disseminated, easing the burden of providing statewide, massified training. Ultimately, ethics matter and it is critical that adults learn to lead so that student-athletes learn to lead in the right way.
UIL could also use new and innovative sports. Chess, lacrosse, weightlifting and e-sports are just a few of the recent sports proposals presented to the UIL Legislative Council. They should be part of the high school sport landscape, as today’s high school students have shown considerable interest in these new, exciting opportunities. Sanctioning more sports increases opportunities for students and addresses the competitive demands of the next generation. The expansion of e-sports is just one example since the pandemic of how youths are competing in nontraditional athletic experiences.
High school athletics in Texas continues to be the blueprint for many states across the country, and Texas should lead when it comes to strengthening the integrity of its high school sports. The new AD will play a crucial role, and if we don’t get it right, student-athletes and our communities will suffer.
Joshua Childs is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at The University of Texas at Austin.
Zachary Taylor is an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern Mississippi.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, Waco Tribune Herald and the San Antonio Express News.