Las Vegas Trail, a strapped-for-cash stretch on the west side of Fort Worth, has become a focal point for city officials who are taking steps to restore an area shunned by many.
Decaying for the past two decades, “The Trail” has seen increases in poverty, violent crime, unemployment, substance abuse and low-income apartment complexes.
Half a mile east of the street sits Western Hills Elementary, a mile southwest is Leonard Middle School, and less than two miles south is Western Hills High School.
Adjacent to the elementary is Western Hills Primary School, where on Aug. 16, the Star-Telegram hosted a community forum. Residents of the Las Vegas Trail area were invited to join the conversation.
Also in attendance were Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Councilman Brian Byrd and Fort Worth police Lt. Kirk Driver, the architect of The Leveraging Project, which is designed to bring social services directly to the people who need them most.
That’s where coach Blake Moilan enters.
Moilan is the Western Hills Cougars head football coach — beginning his fourth year with the team — and although he’s only won six games in that time, it’s his accomplishments off the field that are most notable.
“We do as many things in the community as possible,” Moilan said. “It’s an all-day and every-week thing, even when the season isn’t going. Winning football games is great, but we want to make better men out of these guys.”
With the help of his coaching staff and fellow teachers, Moilan is doing anything to help the kids of The Trail become better people, and this all began when he arrived at the school.
“I think it’s important because it keeps the kids out of trouble. We know where they are and it keeps them busy,” Moilan said of the football program. “It’s also an outlet and something to be proud of to help the community.”
Moilan opens the football field to youngsters; he goes to Leonard and builds a relationship with the middle school students; and last Christmas, he and his team went to a local Wal-Mart and rang a Salvation Army bell to collect donations.
“Those guys at Western Hills are doing a wonderful job getting involved with the community. It really helps those kids who are from that area and the ones that aren’t, it’s opening their eyes to seeing what their teammates have gone through,” FWISD Assistant Director of Athletics Dean Pritchett said. “The coaches are putting in the effort in making that situation better.”
Moilan has also seen an increase in participation numbers. Last year, Western Hills had 104 players, up from 78 in 2011.
Meanwhile at Leonard Middle School, only 49 seventh- and eighth-graders participated in 2016. That number was 70 in 2011. Obviously, the coaches still face many challenges.
“Coach Moilan cares about the kids,” said Lisa Langston, director of athletics for Fort Worth ISD. “He wants them to grow into productive adults, and I can see that in some of the policies that he has in place for his program. He wants his kids to be respectful and ultimately, successful at anything in life.”
Keri Flores has been the principal at Western Hills for less than a year, but she’s already seeing the impact made by Moilan and his staff.
“What I’m impressed with the most is that the coaches are mentors first to those kids,” Flores said. “Winning football games, that’s great, that’s a byproduct of what’s he’s doing, but in my brief time getting to know coach Moilan, what sticks out is he’s a mentor to those young gentlemen. He’ll sit down with them, help them and counsel them, and he has a great group of coaches.”
Flores is also willing to help out. She, Moilan and some of the football players have plans to share their mentoring influence with other deserving children of The Trail.
“I’m hoping by getting them involved that they learn it doesn’t matter where you come from, there’s always room to give back to the community,” Flores said.
Football assistant coach Bill Rock has been at the school for 10 years. He and his family live just off Las Vegas Trail. His daughter goes to Western Hills.
“This is our community. We have great kids here. They come from hard homes, but they come to school and work hard and want an education,” he said. “We have good people; we just need some programs to help these people out. These kids need an extra hand and someone to care for them — keep them active and off the streets. The more positive influence we have here, the better it is.”
Moilan and his staff still have a message they want the city to know.
“We want to help as much as we can; use us as a resource. We take a lot of time to get out to the community — we probably need to do a better job at that,” he said. “Biggest thing is to be available. A lot of kids live in single-parent houses and in houses that are broken down. Our kids aren’t bad kids; they just need some mentoring and guidance.”
Gosset’s weekly picks
Birdville vs. Keller Central
Chisholm Trail vs. YMLA
Richland vs. Nolan Catholic
Marcus vs. Bowie
Hebron vs. Plano
Granbury vs. Western Hills
Eaton vs. Braswell
Maypearl vs. Diamond Hill-Jarvis
Guyer vs. Lake Ridge
Life Waxahachie vs. Tyler Grace Community
Grand Prairie vs. Haltom
Abilene Cooper vs. Keller
Fossil Ridge vs. Lamar
Weatherford vs. Arlington Heights
South Grand Prairie vs. Arlington
Mansfield vs. Summit
Martin vs. Skyline
The Colony vs. North Crowley
Coppell vs. L.D. Bell
Nelson vs. Sachse
North Mesquite vs. Sam Houston
Carroll vs. Broken Arrow (Okla.)
Trinity vs. Tulsa Union (Okla.)
Flower Mound vs. Dallas White
Lewisville vs. Rowlett
Colleyville Heritage vs. Aledo
Azle vs. Grapevine
Boswell vs. Burleson Centennial
Brewer vs. Georgetown
Alvarado vs. Northwest
Burleson vs. Saginaw
Creekview vs. Wyatt
North Side vs. Jefferson
Seagoville vs. South Hills
Southwest vs. Joshua
Cleburne vs. Stephenville
Timberview vs. Everman
Seguin vs. West Mesquite
Lancaster vs. Ryan
Rider vs. Legacy
Midlothian vs. Poteet
Red Oak vs. Corsicana
Lakeview Centennial vs. Waxahachie
Castleberry vs. Ranchview
Kennedale vs. Terrell
Boyd vs. Lake Worth
Bridgeport vs. Mineral Wells
Springtown vs. Decatur
Sunnyvale vs. Midlothian Heritage
Whitney vs. Godley
Benbrook vs. Ponder
All Saints vs. Prestonwood Christian
Glen Rose vs. Grandview
Brock vs. Stamford
Fort Worth Christian vs. Country Day
Grace Prep vs. Oakridge
Trinity Valley vs. Southwest Christian
Dallas Shelton vs. Pantego Christian
Colleyville Covenant vs. Cistercian Prep
Crowley vs. Dunbar
Pinkston vs. Eastern Hills
Carter-Riverside vs. Trimble Tech
Adamson vs. Polytechnic
Nimitz vs. Timber Creek
Irving vs. Paschal
Record for 2016: 406-142 – winning percentage of 74.1