Mac Engel

Fort Worth school district tried to game UIL on realignment, sources say

South Hills quarterback Trey Jones (1) scrambles from the Trimble Tech Bulldogs' defense on Sept. 22, 2016.
South Hills quarterback Trey Jones (1) scrambles from the Trimble Tech Bulldogs' defense on Sept. 22, 2016. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

You can say many things about the Fort Worth school district, some of which begin with four letters, but you can't say that it was not looking out for the best interests of its students at Trimble Tech High School.

You can, however, criticize how the district went about doing it.

According to sources within the school district and documents obtained by the Star-Telegram through open records requests, the district tried to slide Trimble Tech in as a 5A school before realignment was announced in February.

With a projected enrollment of 1,699, Trimble Tech was in the middle of the UIL's 5A classification range of 1,150 to 2,189. But as an alternative campus, it should be in Class 6A, according to UIL rules.

The Bulldogs eventually landed in the largest classification of Texas public high schools, but it was against the efforts — both honest and deceitful — of the school district to keep them out.

School district officials did not respond to an interview request.

In October, the district asked the UIL to consider Trimble Tech as a traditional campus for the upcoming realignment, based on three options, according to an email sent from Fort Worth schools athletic director Kevin Green to UIL athletic director Mark Cousins.

The email was sent Oct. 26, 2017, one day before school districts across the state conducted enrollment counts that the UIL used to determine realignment.

"In prior decades, Trimble Tech has been entered as a traditional school," Greene wrote. "Could that be a consideration to remain that way and entered/grandfathered in based on their enrollment?"

The answer was no.

Yet on the enrollment summary the Fort Wort school district sent to the UIL, the district claimed Trimble Tech was not an alternative school. It did properly list Fort Worth Young Men's Leadership Academy and Fort Worth Young Women's Leadership Academy as alternative schools.

That was not an accident, nor was this decision made on a low level. This decision to try to slide Trimble Tech into Class 5A came not from athletics but from above, according to a source.

According to multiple sources, Fort Worth school district officials went so far as to inquire about the potential penalty if Trimble Tech started as a 5A school and then was "caught" after the season began.

In March 2016, the UIL issued a public reprimand and two years' probation to Livingston High School, which is 75 miles north of Houston, for violating rules related to enrollment figures submitted for reclassification.

"As far as penalties, it all depends on the situation and the facts when it comes to bear, when it comes to sanctioning," UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said in a phone interview. "Whether it was done with intent or anything, we really can't deal with hypotheticals."

Over 30 student athletes signed national letters of intent on Wednesday to play at the next level.

An email from Frank Kile of Euless to the UIL, dated Dec. 24, 2017, highlighted the discrepancy.

"You have YMLCA and YWLCA listed as 6A and Trimble Tech as a 5A school," Kile wrote. "Further Trimble Tech has just slightly under 1,700 students and the other schools, while single gender schools, have only around 150-200 boys or girls with double enrollment of 300 or 400. Personally this seems unfair to YMLCA and YMLCA although they did win an appeal last time to move down.

"Just want to know why and how you can justify having the smaller magnet school in the highest classification and not the larger one. If YMLCA and YWLCA did not have sports teams I would not bring this up but since they do, do not think it is fair competitively wise to put them in the largest classification especially when you have a school four times their size that is a magnet school not put in the highest classification.

"Maybe you have some reasonable explanation that you can give me and maybe some others who might have the same questions and sure even some complaint, I have no main interest or involvement with either school just concerned about fair competition and overall think your organization for the most part does a fine job or sometimes best that can do but in the area of how to class magnet schools especially ones that play sports may need to have possibly some revision, Although I can understand the argument of your current policy."

Kile could not be reached for comment.

Harrison said in an interview: "We let (FWISD) know about the concerns and the information we received, and they did respond appropriately."

We are talking about Trimble Tech, a school not exactly synonymous with big success in major athletics and in major need of depth in football and other sports. On the 5A level, it would have had a chance to be a bit more competitive.

On the 6A level, against traditional big, power teams such as Martin and Lamar, life will be more challenging for the Bulldogs.

The Fort Worth school district tried to give Trimble Tech a shot to be more competitive, and just got busted.

As the ancient sports proverb goes: "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'."

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