UIL rule forces Fort Worth school to cancel football program

A UIL rule designed to keep smaller ‘schools of choice’ from loading up on top athletic talent has had the opposite effect.

The football team at Young Men's Leadership Academy in Fort Worth would have been forced to compete against much bigger schools. But the school says it's not safe, so it's dropping football.

Parents met Friday night with the school leaders to go over options with some players looking at college football opportunities. The principal tried to explain why there will be no more football program. It was something parents didn't want to hear.

Annette Hoffstead says her son, a Junior on the Young Men's Leadership Academy football team, was already getting calls from colleges. And now to learn that the school is dropping the entire football program is heartbreaking.

"It means a lot to him because he loves football,” she said. “And a Chicago recruiter called today so I need to know what's going on. I do not like it at all."

Hoffstead and other parents attended an informational meeting. In a letter to parents, the principal called it a safety issue.

After UIL realignment, Young Men's Leadership Academy would have been forced to play football in division 6-A. After competing in 5-A for the past two years, players would be going up against schools with the enrollment of around 3,500 kids. YMLA's total enrollment is 178.

“We are hurting because we don't think it's fair,” said parent Malinda Allen. “We got 170 boys against 3,000 something students at another school. It's not fair."

The UIL is designed to prevent open-enrollment charter or magnet schools from loading up on top-ranked players and recruiting them from other schools. Since schools like YMLA can accept students from anywhere in the district, it must play at the highest level at 6-A.

Successful appeals to the UIL the past two seasons let YMLA play in 5-A. This year, the appeal was denied.

The principal's letter to parents said, "during the UIL appeal, we expressed our concerns about our young men playing offense and defense (both ways) against schools who have team depths of five to six young men at every position.”

"He, at this point, wants to actually move schools. But the whole thing with that is it's like he's starting all over because he's been playing with the same group of boys since seventh grade,” said parent Megan Hartin. “At 16, he’s planned on going to college to play football. And he told me if football doesn't work out, I'm going to go into the Air Force. But now, he feels like the Air Force is his only choice because he won't be able to get recruited at a school where there's no program."

YMLA needed a unanimous vote by the other schools in those divisions to remain in 5-A. The parents were told that one school voted no.

The UIL says the school could still play football if it wanted to on an independent schedule, but that would mean they would not be in a UIL district which means no playoffs.