Superintendent, community activist discuss vote to create new BHS soccer programs

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Students at Bullard High School will soon be able to choose to participate in a new sport at the school, as Bullard Independent School District prepares to establish the school’s first boys and girls soccer programs, effective during the 2017-2018 school year.

During the January meeting of the Bullard ISD Board of Trustees, held Monday, Jan. 9, Trustees voted unanimously (7-0) to allow the formation of a BHS soccer program for both boys and girls. As Trustees voted by a show of hands on the measure, the capacity-filled room erupted into cheers and celebration.

“It’s outstanding,” said Todd Schneider, Bullard ISD Superintendent, when asked about the school board implementing a new athletic program at BHS. “As we grow and more and more kids and families come to Bullard, the more programs we can offer and support the better opportunity to allow our students to grow intellectually, physically, academically, socially, and all the above.”

Schneider cited other Bullard ISD student programs that were recently implemented and the growth the organization has had over the past few years.

“Similar to the when we added the Bullard Belles program back in 2009,” said Schneider, “that organization has just taken off and grown. There was even a time when Bullard didn’t have a football program, and look how far that has come over the years. With growth comes more programs that you can afford to provide students. It’s always exciting when new programs are added.”

According to Schneider, the idea for the creation of the soccer program came from a parent of a BHS student shortly after he was named as superintendent in January 2015.

"The idea for a soccer program at BHS has been around for several years," said Schneider, "In the course of the year that I have been here as superintendent, I've had a parent come see me and discuss the possibility of a soccer program at BHS. We had a good discussion and talked about what kind of things would need to happen and what the timelines would be to get it ready to be added. There were petitions to other board and superintendents before I came to Bullard, but I don’t believe they had gotten that far."

The soccer measure was originally brought in front of the Board of Trustees in January 2016 by community member Shane Pyle. Through a petition drive, Pyle, along with other supporters for a soccer program at BHS, collected over 400 signatures from community members.

“It’s probably been five years in the making with previous superintendents,” said Pyle. “My daughter Kenzi is now a sophomore and she’s been playing soccer since she was about six-years-old with a lot of friends that go to BHS. It’s something we’ve always enjoyed watching our kids do. My youngest son also loves to play soccer. We just believed that having a soccer program for the kids at BHS would be a great addition. We started speaking with former superintendents and the athletic director that we weren’t big enough of a district, so we decided to get together a community petition, which had hundreds of signatures from the community, as well as students, just to prove the point that it’s the most popular sport in the world and the interest is here in our community. We had a lot of people wondering why we didn’t already have a soccer program. There was a lot of interest from people wanting to relocate to Bullard, but they ended up moving to Lindale and Whitehouse because they have the program and we didn’t.”

However, despite Pyle and other community members’ best efforts, the measure fell short in 2016 after it only received a motion from a member of the school board and not a second.

“There were a lot of unknowns last year during the bond project,” said Schneider. “We had to have a decision to the UIL by the end of January, and we were a long way from being finished and didn’t know what the impact to our utilities would be with the new bond facilities, as well as the number of staff that would need to be added to manage the new facilities. There were just too many unknowns to be able to decide on extra expenditures at that time. This year, the proposal had a lot less factors to consider.”

Schneider acknowledged that the push for soccer at BHS has been predominately from parents of female students wanting the school to offer the sport.

“The same push and desire for soccer last year definitely has continued primarily from the girl’s parents to add soccer,” said Schneider. “We, including myself, board members, and our athletic director, have visited with Mr. Pyle several times since last year in hopes of adding the program. It was really great that the first item approved by the Bullard ISD Board of Trustees in the 2017 year was the soccer program. I believe those in the community who have worked hard to get soccer to BHS have done their due diligence and helped the boat sail in the right direction in order to achieve their goals.”

A student interest survey was conducted by Bullard ISD and the results were presented to Trustees during the meeting in December 2015. In the survey, a total of 318 BHS students were surveyed, with approximately 55.7 percent saying they are interested in playing soccer, with 67.3 percent of those students saying they had never played soccer before.

In the similar survey done at the Bullard Middle School campus, a total of 292 students were polled, with 43.8 percent saying they too have interest in playing soccer, with 43.7 percent of those polled having participated in an organized soccer program for between one to three years.

According to financial information presented to Trustees, the estimated cost for a soccer program ranges between $29,500 and $134,500, including the costs of additional coaches that are also certified teachers as required by the UIL, as well as uniforms, equipment, district and non-district travel, referees, and more.

“Soccer is not a relatively high-cost sport to add to a school district,” said Schneider. “It’s not a high-cost to because the stadium he already will suffice; we’ll only just have to add some lines. The costs presented the school board are just estimates because we don’t know what district we’ll end up playing in yet; that decision will be made at a later time.”

Schneider also previously provided information to trustees regarding the number of local school districts that have a soccer program for both genders or just a single program. A total of 15 area 4A schools currently have both men's and women's soccer programs, including schools such as Gladewater, Longview Spring Hill, and Brownsboro. Additionally, two area schools, Atlanta, and Pittsburg, only have a men's soccer program.

According to Schneider, the soccer district that consists of school similar to BHS is the District 15-4A district, including schools such as Athens, Brownsboro, Gladewater, Mabank, and Tyler Chapel Hill.

In order to help board members in their effort to have full knowledge regarding implementing a soccer program at BHS, Bullard ISD Athletic Director Shannon Wilson invited soccer coaches from Spring Hill High School to a Bullard ISD school board meeting to address any concerns board members may have had.

“The coaches from Spring Hill were at the meeting to answer board members’ questions regarding soccer,” said Schneider. “Spring Hill has lived this scenario where they implemented a soccer program a few years ago, so it was a good move by Coach Wilson to bring them in and allow them to address our concerns. You don’t want to start a new program and have it not be successful in terms of student interest, not just in wins and losses. If you add a program too quickly and the team isn’t successful and the student interest goes down, it makes it even harder to get back at a later date. Timing has to be right for the program, not just presently, but also in the life of the program’s future.”

For the new BHS soccer programs in the 2017-2018 school year, board members approved allowing the girls soccer team to compete in UIL play, while setting the boys soccer team on a course to participate in club soccer play.

“We want to make sure the programs are successful,” said Schneider. “We’ve had a big push from the girls’ parents on providing this program. However, for the boys, their level of interest and anticipation seems to level off in junior high, which didn’t show enough evidence that they were ready to step on the field and guarantee that we would have enough suited out and willing to compete in a UIL district. That can be a first ticket to having a program go backwards. We want to make sure of the numbers in the boys program as we start and our plans are to move on to a UIL soccer program for them. Of course, soccer will conflict with several sports already offered at BHS, including baseball, basketball, softball, and others. There are a lot of decisions that will have to be made for both teams. I’m not saying they can’t play soccer as well as another sport, but it will be a challenge and very stressful, on those athletes, coaches, and programs to try and pull it off.”

Schneider said the unanimous vote by the Bullard ISD Board of Trustees showed him the time was right for the program to be added.

“The school board is challenged with the grave responsibility to manage taxpayers’ money and appropriating it correctly and be fiscally responsible,” said Schneider. “This decision was affordable in the upcoming year with the growth that we’ve had and the upcoming expenditures that are expected. It got a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees, so it tells me they believe soccer is a great program to have for our students.”

Pyle also said that the excitement from those community members in the audience at the meeting expressed how excited prospective soccer players and their families are about the addition of the new programs.

“It was great and almost a relief also,” said Pyle. “When you’ve been trying something for so long and keep running into the wall, but finally the door opens, it’s just a great feeling. Several of the girls were also at the meeting, and they cheered after the vote had been made. They were definitely excited for this to actually happen. It was just awesome.”

In regards to the new programs, Pyle said he agrees with the levels of competiveness the two teams will be at next season, citing students’ interest levels.

“It’s all based on the interest levels,” said Pyle. “There was a lot more interest in creating a girls program. At the previous meeting when the Spring Hill coaches were there, they saw that the girls would be able to compete right away. The boys’ interests are there, but not to the level as the girls’ interests right now. By putting the boys in club play instead of UIL for right now allows that interest to continue to grow.”

Bullard ISD made its first move regarding the new soccer programs recently, hiring Season Caughlin, former Jacksonville soccer coach, to take the reins of the girls soccer program in its first season next school year. The district has yet to hire a coach for the boys program.

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