The true cost of winning within High School athletics.
The East Central Hornets girls basketball team led by coach Ian Ward and Baylor bound All-American forward Nalyssa Smith are having arguably the best season in program history.
Sitting at 24-4; with losses coming only to Amarillo (28-2, ranked 4th in State), Judson (24-4, ranked 9th in State), and Steele (27-3, ranked 16 in State) twice, the Lady Hornets have become not only one of the top teams in the city but in the state and nationally as well. The Lady Hornets are currently in the middle of a hotly contested district 27-6A race in arguably one of the toughest districts in the state, which includes the aforementioned Judson and Steele.
With the football team finishing its second consecutive winless season and the once legendary boys varsity basketball team sitting in basketball purgatory, the Lady Hornets are a bright spot for an otherwise pathetic athletic program. In all fairness the girls softball team is pretty awesome and perhaps they should make debate a sport.
Anyone who knows athletics especially athletics at its highest levels will attest to the amount of dedication and work it takes to reach the pinnacle of any sport. It takes hours upon hours of honing one's craft. Above all else it takes sacrifice.
Superintendent Roland Toscano
Athletic Director, Joe Trevino
Asst. Athletic Director, Suzette Arriola
What’s being sacrificed however are the ideals that we as decent people hold dear. Ideals such as honesty, integrity, morality, chastity, accountability.
“We want to win, but we don’t want to win at all costs”, said Asst. Athletic Director Suzette Arriola.
I found that statement extremely profound considering that winning at east central seems to be taking priority over basic human decency.
“I’ve never seen a more dysfunctional team. The kids can’t stand each other or the coach, the coach hates the other coaches, parents hate parents”, said one parent who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against his child. “I’ve never seen a more corrosive and toxic environment”.
“You know it’s bad when the coach tells you its gotten to the point that he doesn’t want to bring his own kids around these girls because they’re young and impressionable and doesn’t want the culture of this place rubbing off”.
To Ward’s defense, his attempts at discipline are scuttled by the usual small town politics. Discipline that is meted out is swiftly met with a barrage of phone calls and meeting requests to administrators questioning his move, thus undermining his standing with HIS players.
One current player relayed an episode that occurred at practice that illustrates Ward’s dilemma. At the time she was a starting guard. She says that she was involved in an altercation with another student outside of basketball. For one reason or another she was allowed to remain on the team and her punishment was not starting the following game. At practice soon thereafter another player was chastised and made to run. Before she began running coach ward makes the statement “we have a girl on the team that had a fight and I can’t punish her, no sense trying to punish you”.
At one point there was a plot by one of the players and her family to accuse Ward of inappropriate contact because she was on JV as a junior and THEY felt she should’ve been on the varsity squad. The administration was notified thus ending the treacherous ploy. The student however remained on the team.
“I’m not surprised someone would do something like that, it was just a matter of time”, says Tina Rice; who’s son K’von Rice was a standout guard with the boys varsity basketball team and graduated in 2017 of the conspiracy. “That place lacks the core principles of hornet pride and it's ridiculous. Because K’von was one of the better players they would just let him run wild. He (a former East Central athletic official) would offer extra point his senior year for his gpa for college. That’s not what I wanted for my child. What does he gain from that long term?”.
In one instance a female basketball player was caught in a locker room with another male student engaged in behavior that would make my grandmother blush by the head coach of the boys team. We asked Arriola about the incident and she had no knowledge of it. While the details of the incident are private, a school board member we spoke to on a condition of anonymity acknowledged that it did occur. To our knowledge no tangible punishment was dealt out. Is it because the athlete plays a prominent role on a team having a successful season?
“Man I’ve played basketball at some of the highest levels short of the league and been around basketball my entire life and I’ve never seen where the parents and administrators dictate what happens and the coach is just a figurehead that calls plays”, says another parent who’s daughter is a senior on the Lady Hornet basketball team and also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “Bro this is varsity basketball not a rec league”.
In the past 2 years a number of student athletes primarily on the boys basketball team opted to take their talents to other schools as result of their dissatisfaction with both the athletics as well as the culture. Rashard Smith, Devonte Bentley, and Michael Mickles, III; all seniors this year, chose to finish their high school careers at different schools. Smith and Bentley chose Athlos Academy while Mickles opted for Seguin Highschool. Smith is a top 100 player in the state by Texashoop.com and ranked in the top 10 locally for the class of 2018. It should be noted that at the time of publication of this article the East Central Boys varsity team sits at 9-14 compiled and 1-5 in District, with notable home losses to Judson and Steele 122-74 and 118-77 respectively.
“The athletic department is poor. The athletic department is in desperate need of reorganization and realigning . The current coaches lack the knowledge to develop a student athlete”, says Charissa Mickles, who’s oldest son graduated from East Central in 2014 and was a standout guard and 4 year letterman for the boys basketball team.
“Coaches I have personally encountered are not concerned with the student athlete overall . I have not been a witness to any of the student athletes growing as a result of positive direction from the East Central Athletic Department. The trainers continuously misdiagnose athletes in an effort to not having them sitting out for an extended period of time . The coaches, football, basketball and track are just coaching as a means to support their own families . The coaches in these areas all lack the expertise of the sport in which they are coaching. I moved my other 2 boys out of the district to Seguin highschool for more opportunity, growth, and development”, says Michael Mickles, Jr..
When asked if culture of EC athletics is a positive one or negative one for the student athletes, the Mickles responded simply, “EC Athletics is a complete fail for student athletes . Sadly, these students do not have a future as athletes after high school”.
Kemeisha Freeman; who’s son was also a standout guard for the varsity boys team in the class of 2014, echoed the Mickles’ sentiments. “I don’t think the athletic staff prepared the boys for college. I don’t want to sound negative but I just wish more promoting would have been done by the program for our class, those boys worked hard and didn’t get the respect they deserved”.
It should be noted that Freeman, like the Mickles’, moved her daughter out of the district as well. She is now a contributing member of the district rival Steele Lady Knights varsity basketball team as a freshman. “I moved her out of the district for more diversity and the programs they offer are in line with what she wants to major in in college”.
Our final discovery in interviews with current and former students and parents is something that should strike fear into every parent. It involves alleged drug use by athletic staff. We asked the same district official who spoke on condition of anonymity about the allegations. We were informed by that official that the coach in question was on a pedialyte regimen. We received documentation suggesting otherwise. It appears the coach was soliciting a parent for the illegal steroid Anavar. Screenshots from text messages we received seem to confirm that the coach actually received the drug from another source. When presented with this information the district official declined to further comment. Perhaps the school official meant the coach was washing down the steroids WITH the Pedialyte?
“What’s crazy is I recall speaking to Arriola during my daughters freshman year about the state of the program. Here we are 3 years later and it’s the same shit. I gave over $1,300 to the program last year and I pay a ridiculous amount of property taxes in this district. I chose to live in this District it didn’t choose me but I have to think about my property value. What am I getting for my money a damaged kid? If we’re not putting out winning programs consistently like the Judson’s and Steele’s can we at least produce quality kids”, says Ali.
Let’s be clear. The issues discussed in this article are not unique to East Central. Schools across the country are plagued with issues within their athletic programs. These things however should not be normalized nor ignored. Kids at some point will be kids and they will make mistakes. It is our job as responsible adults to hold them to account for their transgressions and to counsel them in the hopes that they learn and do not REPEAT their mistakes. Then perhaps they grow into responsible adults. I do not blame the kids they’re merely products of their environments. If we don’t hold the student-athletes accountable it is our duty to hold those in authority accountable.
The blame lies squarely on Superintendent Roland Toscano, Athletic Director Joe Trevino, Asst. Athletic Director Arriola, and each and every coach, trainer, and athletic staff member that has any significant contact and influence on our children.
As parents we entrust the safety and welfare of our children to their respective school’s faculty and staff. At times school officials interact with our children more than we do as parents. They are the vanguards. We trust that they will instill in them ideals such as honesty, integrity, chastity, and morality while at the same time building being guardians of there social, mental, and emotional well being. Somewhere winning at all costs catches up to us and even when we win we lose.