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A NEW LAW CUTS DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
The aftershocks of House Bill 72, a controversial new Texas law that requires public junior and senior high school students to pass every subject during a six-week grading period or give up extracurricular activities for the following six weeks, were felt on Oct. 18. That was the day the penalties for the fall term took effect. About half of the students in Texas high schools flunked at least one course and thus were banned from extracurricular activities. Decimated debating clubs, cross-country squads, 4-H clubs, volleyball teams and school orchestras have had to disband.
But the impact of No-Pass No-Play, as the far-reaching legislation is known, has been greatest on high school football, the lifeblood of a Texas Friday night. Eisenhower High in Aldine lost 83 players. King High in Corpus Christi lost 13 of 22 starters. Junior-varsity schedules in Dallas were canceled when Seagoville High lost 12 of 19 jayvees, Hillcrest lost 26 of 30, Wilson lost 12 of 18. In greater San Antonio, 1,070 football players flunked at least one course. All told, 15% of varsity athletes in fall sports—and 40% of jayvee and freshman football players—are now ineligible.
Sixty schools in the state play six-man football, and Marathon High is one of them. Marathon, a town of 800 in desolate southwest Texas—there are only 37 students enrolled in the high school—is rabid about its team. "This is a football town," said coach, phys ed instructor and history teacher Gary Lamar. "That's all they have here."
Oct. 18 was Homecoming in Marathon, but because five of the team's 10 players were now ineligible, the game—and the rest of the schedule—had been canceled. Nevertheless, the Homecoming parade assembled at the gas station and made its way up Main Street to the field. Horses, go-carts and floats straggled along in a strangely funereal procession. The junior-class float sported a banner: WE STILL LOVE YOU MUSTANGS, BUT PLEASE STUDY HARDER NEXT YEAR. The fifth-graders were more blunt. They sat at their desks on a flatbed truck, all of them wearing dunce caps. Their banner read: BACK TO THE BOOKS.
Backers of House Bill 72 say that's exactly the message they hoped to get across. "The vast majority of high school students in extracurricular activities passed and are eligible," said Texas Governor Mark White, who had pushed for the measure. "It's a sign that most students took the task seriously and buckled down."
That was apparently the case in El Paso, where Independent School District athletic director Clay Cox said, "Our coaches and players worked themselves to death to pass. They probably spent more time with schoolwork than they did with the fundamentals of the game." John Kincaide, A.D. of the Dallas Independent School District, said varsity flunk-outs were few because new educational practices—weekly grade checks and tutorials—had been instituted.
But the new plan also has its opponents. Some of them are afraid that athletes who are sidelined by No-Pass No-Play will drop out of school. Others fear that high school athletes will try to get around the academic roadblocks the way so many college athletes do. "The kids are dodging the tougher courses," said Mike Bailey, football coach at Piano East near Dallas. "No-Pass No-Play is hurting kids academically because they're not taking the courses they should take." There have even been reports of coaches and administrators pressuring teachers to pass borderline athletes. Critics also question the law's fairness. Coach Charlie Long, whose Martin High team in Laredo lost 43 football players, said, "To me this bill has racial overtones. The minorities are the ones who are suffering."
Both the efficacy and fairness of No-Pass No-Play may take time to gauge. But without doubt life in Texas has already been altered by the law. As Naomi Garcia, who was crowned Marathon's Homecoming Queen on a field where there would be no football, complained, "It's not the same without a game. It doesn't feel real."
LET'S TRY PAC-MAN