Written by Corbett Smith
Unlevel field: Wylie East's facilities no match for those across town; team crams into P.E. locker room
WYLIE — At Wylie High School, football players change for practice in a large field house, which sits adjacent to a 90-yard indoor practice facility. Across town, Wylie East’s varsity team crams into what was designed as the girls’ P.E. locker room, using lockers that can’t quite fit a pair of shoulder pads, a helmet, cleats and a bag.
It’s a surprising reality for Wylie East, playing its second varsity season in football-crazed Wylie.
While schools such as North Forney and Trophy Club Byron Nelson — serving communities that until recently were one-high school districts — sport top-of-the-line facilities, Wylie East must make do.
Opposition to the creation of the new high school, a decision made by the board of trustees in 2008, has allowed such a disparity to occur.
“In all honesty, when you are a player and you are a coach on either side of the situation like that, it’s unfortunate,” former athletic director Mark Ball said. “I don’t see how it benefits anybody.”
For Wylie East head football coach and campus athletics coordinator Joe Lepsis, the fact that his students don’t have equal facilities is an everyday reality.
The campus, originally opened in 2007 as a freshman center, was not designed to house a full complement of varsity sports and programs. Wrestlers — who last year practiced in a hallway — share the cafeteria with the cheerleaders and the color guard. Basketball and volleyball teams jockey for gym time.
Football coaches are shoehorned into a makeshift office.
“I think it puts our kids at a competitive disadvantage,” said Steve Oliver, the Wylie East booster club president whose son plays on the football and baseball teams.
Unlike Wylie, or every other high school in District 10-4A, there is no indoor practice facility.
Right now, if heavy rains come, Lepsis and his boys head into the gym.
“If the good Lord has a bad week, we’re in trouble,” Lepsis said.
Wylie ISD athletic director Kyle Craighead said that while the district would like for Wylie East to have such amenities, a bond issue must be passed to address it.
Otherwise, it is amply equipped, he said.
Renovations were made in the spring, with bleachers and lights added to the baseball and softball fields.
Getting turf on a practice field is the next priority. But the money isn’t immediately available, and no additional bond measures are being brought to the community at this point.
Be like Southlake
Conversations about the campus’ use — whether it would house underclassmen or eventually be used as a separate high school — came immediately upon its construction.
Projections at the time said that the district could eventually grow to 7,000 high school students.
Still, “until the last minute, I thought we were going to stay a one-school town,” said Sue Nicklas, a board member at the time. The board’s 5-2 vote in spring 2008 to use the campus as a second high school caught her off guard. She voted against the split.
Soon after, organized opposition sprung up against the district’s efforts to build improvements at Wylie East.
Three bond issues since the board’s decision, meant in part to improve facilities at Wylie East, have failed. In the last election, in November 2009, the bond was split into propositions, and while other parts passed, the portion that included nearly $15 million in improvements at Wylie East did not.
Ronnie Cross, a member of the 1977 state champion football team, was a key voice in opposition to both the split and subsequent bond proposals.
“It divided the community,” said Cross, who at the time of the split, was the president of the Wylie booster club. “Three years ago, when we made it to the final, there were 5,000 people in the stands for every game. Now, I go to a Wylie game, and we have 1,500, 2,000 maybe there. And it’s not athletics to me. People think it is, but it’s not. It just that the community has always been one. We’re together as one.”
Ball, who resurrected Wylie’s football program after being hired as head coach and athletic director in 1997, left the district near the end of the 2009 school year to become the athletic director for Lubbock ISD. He admitted he probably would have looked at job offers differently had Wylie stayed one high school, or even passed one of the bonds.
“I just think, obviously, my vision was to be like Allen, be like Southlake,” he said. “That’s where I thought we could be. If we were to stay one high school, I really think that we could have had one of the best overall athletic programs in the state. Without a doubt.”
A future with 3 schools?
Without a senior class last season, Wylie East’s football team finished at the bottom of District 10-4A with a 2-8 record. Wylie finished 11-4, making the Class 4A Division I semifinal. Lepsis was quick to point out that he doesn’t want to use facilities as an excuse.
“They’ve never had a giant indoor [facility] and never had turf. They don’t know any different,” Lepsis said. “And that’s how we have to approach it as coaches. It has no effect on what we do on the field.”
Wylie East (3-0) hosts McKinney North (2-1) at 7:30 Friday at Wylie ISD Stadium.
It is conceivable that in the not-too-distant future, Wylie might build a third high school. Land has already been purchased, and once a trigger number of high school students has been hit, discussions will begin.
Another bond election for improvements at Wylie East isn’t off the table.
Last year, then-superintendent Dr. John Fuller said that he thought that a successful bond issue would hopefully be a few years down the road.
Lepsis and Wylie East programs will make do until that point, if it ever comes.
“I think a lot of people look at themselves and what [Wylie High School] means to them, and they don’t look at the kids,” Lepsis said. “If you went to school back then, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about these kids.”
Tale of the tape
2010 records (overall; district)
* as freshman campus
** as of last enrollment