I was asked the question a couple of years ago while giving a campus tour to the father of a prospective student. I had just finished discussing the numerous athletic and extracurricular activities we offer, but he found something glaringly absent.
The father, with sincerity and maybe even a touch of concern, asked, “What does your school do about football?” It was as if he was asking a desert traveler, “What do you do about water?”
For context, my school is celebrating its 65th year in Houston and doesn’t have a football team. We offer seven varsity sports, and most of them have garnered regional and state accolades over the last few years. We even have six alumni currently playing collegiate athletics, which is significant considering our graduating classes rarely exceed 50 students.
But we are a coeducational school, and Texas is arguably the high school football capital of the world. Therefore, a Texas school without a football team is a rare, mythical unicorn indeed. Hence the question…what does a school do about football in the absence of it? And why would a school choose not to offer it?
Let me clarify upfront that this post is not about injuries. Correlations between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are heavily researched, and a quick Google search will yield millions of articles presenting data and opinions. Also, this post isn’t about my personal relationship with football, which I played in high school. While I will always have physical ailments resulting from the sport, the lessons learned in resilience continue to serve me well.
To understand why a Texas school might not offer football, I offer two primary reasons: cost and identity.
Football is expensive and requires many resources. Consider the infrastructure needed to sustain a successful football program and how it affects tuition. First, there is the physical space that typically includes a stadium, locker rooms, training room, concessions, parking, and maintenance of a manicured field (measuring a substantial 120 x 54 yards). Second, consider staffing and salaries for a head coach and numerous assistant coaches. Additionally, there are trainers, announcers, scoreboard operators, and a host of volunteers needed to work the sidelines. You also have to dedicate significant resources to recruiting athletes with specific abilities and physical attributes. Finally, consider the massive equipment needs. Even a small team of 22 players needs an equivalent number of uniforms complete with helmets, shoulder pads, other protective gear, and storage for it all.
If you think this list sounds expensive and resource heavy, you’re correct. Now imagine if you could redirect that money and effort into academic programs, music and arts offerings, and sports that can more easily be continued into adulthood (like running, swimming, soccer, tennis, and basketball). If that were the case, being one of the few high schools in Houston not offering football would actually be a tremendous strength.
In a recent conversation with an admissions director at another area high school, he offered, “You know what I love about your school? You know who you are. So many schools struggle with identity.” It was a tremendous compliment and one that I’ve heard many times over the years. Our school is predominately known for its high quality of education in a classical and unapologetically Christian framework. Additionally, we have unique elective offerings in the Scottish Arts—bagpiping, drumming, and Highland dance—that have garnered international awards and recognition. Not many schools can claim to compete, much less win championships, on the world stage. As an aside, if you’re curious regarding Scotland’s national animal, I’ve taken the liberty of conducting a Google search for you.
We offer a lot for a small school, but we’re not seeking to be all things to all people. While that may not be the path of greatest popularity, it allows us to focus on what we do best. In doing so, our students avoid many of the social consequences often shaped by football culture (e.g., social stratification, communal deference to players and cheerleaders). That’s not who we are, nor does it reflect the relationships we aim to foster among our students.
The next time I’m asked what we “do about football,” I’ll be prepared. Simply put, as a Houston unicorn with a strong sense of identity, we believe in using precious, limited resources in a way that supports our culture. We “do” nothing about football, other than watch and celebrate it where it thrives. The larger question is: “What do other schools do about bagpipes?”
Danny Kahalley, Director of Admissions at Saint Thomas’ Episcopal School, has fifteen years of experience in education administration and has worked for numerous schools and colleges in Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas at the primary, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate level. He has his bachelor’s degree from Rhodes College and master’s degree from the University of Alabama.
- Classical Education
- Scottish Arts