Fort Worth Young Men’s Leadership Academy is far and away the smallest Class 5A football program in the state, with an enrollment of 177.
For the 2016 UIL realignment – YMLA’s first varsity football season – the Wildcats had to join District 4-6A with fellow Fort Worth ISD school Paschal. All magnet schools from multiple-school districts like FWISD are handled this way.
The rest of 4-6A – five Arlington ISD teams, as well as Mansfield and North Crowley – have least 2,150 students, so an appeal process moved the all-male school to District 7-5A with fellow FWISD teams South Hills, Arlington Heights, Southwest, North Side, Trimble Tech, Wyatt and Western Hills
Still, those schools have at least 1,000 students, so YMLA struggled a 1-9 record in 2016.
“People can say what they want, they would love to shut us down,” YMLA head coach Joseph Heath said. “We play with a chip on our shoulder and just try to do things the right way.”
“We’re all trying to get better. We all want it this year,” added senior Draylon Roberson, who accounted for 326 yards rushing and five touchdowns last week against Trimble Tech. “We all have something to play for – our school.”
We’re very proud with the start they’ve had in district. They have a dynamic young man at quarterback and he seems to be the real deal.
Dean Pritchett, Fort Worth ISD Assistant Director of Athletics
YMLA opened last fall with about 130 students in grades nine through 11, and about 60 of them participated in football. Now with a senior class, Heath said it’s up to 75 in football. YMLA soccer coaches are also encouraging their players to try football, too.
The senior class of 23 comprises the core that has matured to play a key factor in their recent success.
“We had a tough non-district schedule,” said Heath, who had to face a couple of state powerhouses. “They don’t really have a choice, but when you go up with the likes of Waco La Vega and Celina, you better grow up in a hurry.”
695 Difference in the number of students enrolled at YMLA and the next smallest 5A school, Fort Worth Dunbar
YMLA seniors also participate in a mentoring program at the school.
“The seniors do a lot of good things with the younger kids,” Heath said. “They teach the younger kids life and social skills. It’s a great environment for leadership to blossom.”
One of those senior leaders is defensive tackle Sir Marc Sanders, last season’s 7-5A Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
“We were inexperienced,” Sanders said. “As a leader this year, I’ve made sure that we come together as a family and that we all have one dream and one goal.
“Off the field, I make sure the underclassmen are in their right mind, and that they stay focused on school so they can play.”
This week, a share of first place is on the line as YMLA meets Southwest (3-2, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Clark Stadium.
“These kids work their tails off just like every kid in the state,” said Heath, who spent seven seasons at Southwest as a football assistant coach. “They probably work a lot harder in the classroom than others – these kids deserve a chance to be successful.”