An unexpected run to the UIL state tournament by the Fort Worth Arlington Heights boys basketball team is an oasis of positivity in a desert of recent negative publicity for the school.
Stories of corruption and teacher scandals, and a revolving door of coaches, have become the norm at the school in recent years.
The Yellow Jackets (23-11), who face Rosenberg Terry in the Class 4A state semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday in Austin, have given the fan base a brief reprieve from the negativity.
“The kids are excited. We can’t get enough fan buses for them because they are all excited about going to Austin again,” coach Jon Wagner said. “The seniors went there as sophomores, are excited about going again, and everybody just can’t wait to get going.”
Since 2010 Heights has endured:• An investigation by the Fort Worth school district into allegations of altered attendance records and an inappropriate relationship between a coach and an administrator. Employees were fired or resigned, and a whistleblower lawsuit was filed.
• An exodus of coaches over the past year, due in part to district-wide buyouts, forced the school to find new head coaches for football, baseball, boys basketball, softball and wrestling.
• Just a season removed from a second-round playoff team in football, the 2012 squad slumped to a 2-8 mark that included a forfeit to rival Fort Worth Paschal.
• A former history teacher and assistant coach with the basketball and baseball teams was arrested Jan. 22 on a charge of indecency with a child for having an improper relationship with a 16-year-old female student. A second charge involving another student was added last week.
The basketball players “have endured it all,” principal Jason Oliver said at a pep rally Wednesday morning. “There’s something special about this year.”
Wagner is Arlington Heights’ third coach in as many seasons.
Gary Collier built a winning basketball tradition in four years as coach at Heights, culminating with the Yellow Jackets’ first trip to the state tournament in 2011.
“It was one of those things from sour to sweet, it really was. In four years we were down in Austin and I couldn’t believe it,” Collier said by phone of his time at AHS.
He left for Lewisville after 2011, citing the opportunity to coach at the Class 5A level.
Josh Welch, who served as an assistant to Collier, took over and led the 2011-12 Yellow Jackets back to the regional final. Welch, who left for Lake Dallas to be closer to his family, said he will be in Austin to root on his former players.
Wagner, who was an assistant at Fort Worth Western Hills, got the Heights job in October. He inherited a talented and experienced group of players led by an all-senior front court consisting of 6-foot-9 Damontre McFarland, 6-5 A’Shawn Robinson and 6-4 Justin Hemphill.
“I think it was just them coming together,” said Abigail Robinson, A’Shawn’s mother. “They got their coach late, A’Shawn was in football, so it was just them coming together and working as a unit.”
The Yellow Jackets jelled in the postseason. Close playoff wins over Everman and Fort Worth Trimble Tech have only strengthened the team’s resolve.
“This run means we’re good players, we listen to what our coach says and we did what we had to to get here,” said A’Shawn Robinson, who was MVP of the Class 4A Region I tournament. “Making it back to state means a lot, but we’re not done yet, we still have two more games.”
Win or lose in Austin, the basketball team’s success will help erase some sad and painful recent events.
“This is a positive,” Abigail Robinson said. “It’s a good thing.”
Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760