Lady Texans wrestle for space at Arlington’s Sam Houston High

Jenae Wilson stands against a padded gym wall at Sam Houston High School, eagerly awaiting her chance to pin one of her classmates to the floor.

As one of 66 members of the girls wrestling team, Wilson said space is tight. It’s not so bad when they’re learning moves step by step, but when the real grappling starts, the girls worry about falling all over one another, she said.

Lady Texans coach Amy McNease said the girls wrestling team is among the largest in the state, yet it practices in a room that’s half the size of what it needs.

“A bigger wrestling room would be nice, but I don’t see that happening overnight,” McNease said.

Improving cramped conditions at athletic facilities like those at Sam Houston is one of the concerns that Arlington school district officials are dealing with as they look toward a potential 2014 bond package.

In September, the district formed a Capital Needs Steering Committee to evaluate all facilities, and it conducted the last of its community forums Wednesday.

A questionnaire is posted online with feedback that committee members received from about 650 respondents, including that the condition of athletic facilities and fields is among the biggest challenges facing the district.

A bond package would help the 65,000-student district move forward, school board President Bowie Hogg said. Trustees have been working on ways to address issues like overcrowding, out-of-date equipment and aging buildings.

The latest figures reveal that the district needs $82.633 million for capital needs in technology, including athletics, security, transportation, special education, library services and journalism.

“Part of our goal is to have world-class facilities, and we know we can’t have them all at once, so we have to prioritize what our wants versus our needs are,” Hogg said.

Room for improvement

At the most recent school board meeting, a suggested facilities assessment listed a new districtwide athletic complex as a possible solution. The complex would be used for competition wrestling and gymnastics.

On the questionnaire, respondents also shared their opinions about the state of the district, including fine arts, football, security, dance, cheerleading, class size, library updates and access to technology.

On Thursday night, the committee will update trustees about final community requests. The committee will then prioritize funding needs for the district through 2019, and the findings will be submitted to the board no later than Feb. 6.

After that, trustees will determine whether to go ahead with a bond issue, and at what price, or to fund improvements through the general budget, Hogg said.

The last bond program, in 2009, generated $197.5 million. Before that, the district hadn’t asked the public to support a bond issue since 1999.

Hogg didn’t know why it took 10 years to call for another election, but the 2009 bond was to “make up for letting some of the facilities decrease and decline in the district.”

Growing into a team

Four years ago, the Lady Texans team had only six members, but word-of-mouth ushered in new girls each day. Now, girls wrestle in shifts because there isn’t enough room for all 66 to wrestle at once.

The girls wrestle in their weight class on one mat with 12 circles. Each set wrestles in its own circle, and the smaller girls are separated on one side of the room from the bigger girls so that no one is injured if they bump into one another, the coach said.

Wilson, a junior, has wrestled on the team since her freshman year. She was one of the girls who commented in the questionnaire, requesting more room to practice.

“This is everything to me. Just knowing that someone does care about you,” Wilson said. “It’s like being free. … Here, you can let all the stress out.”

Sam Houston is a minority-majority school. Sixty-six percent of its student population is Hispanic and 21 percent is black. Eighty-six percent of its roughly 3,100 students are economically disadvantaged, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Some of the student responses to the questionnaire painted a picture of girls who lacked confidence, focus, academic interest and support at home before they began wrestling.

“When I first joined the team I was super shy. I came out of my shell,” senior Jasmine Sanchez said. “… It’s not like other sports where if you get on one girl’s bad side they all gang up on you.

“We need everyone to be a team,” she said.

Space issues aside, McNease tries to put her athletes in position to succeed.

“Some of these kids don’t have the best home condition, but when they are here, they are the best of the best,” McNease said.

Melony Rodriguez was the first female wrestler at Sam Houston back in 1995.

Rodriguez started out practicing with the boys because there was no girls team. She used a corner of the gym with the boys until another girl joined and they wrestled each other. During her senior year, the University Interscholastic League stepped in and formed a girls team, she said.

“Wrestling teams, even when I was there, were always put on the back burner,” Rodriguez said.