Yates Lions Dare to Dream Big
Houston high school wins respect in 2010 UIL Championship series
By Anne Harris,
6:11PM, Fri. Mar. 12, 2010
In case you didn't know from the pre-SXSW traffic insanity on Red River, the UIL Boys High School Basketball Tournament, aka the State Championship series, is all over the Frank Erwin Center this week. As usual, the backstory is the story, namely the hard work and mutual support of one inner-city Houston team, the Yates Lions.
The Lions set a national record here on Thursday night in a semifinal game against The Colony by winning their 15th consecutive game scoring more than 100 points, breaking the record set by the 1969-70 Hobbs, N.M., Eagles. This caps a two-season streak of 57 straight wins. Seeking their second consecutive State Championship, the Lions next face No. 2 Lancaster (31-2) Saturday, 3:30pm at the Erwin Center. As two-time Grammy nominee and Port Arthur/Houston rapper Bun B. told The Score earlier today, "These are amazing kids. This is so much deeper than basketball." Indeed. Bun's wife, Chalvalier Queen Caldwell-Freeman, a Yates graduate and fervent Lions fan, remains a strong voice in that school district, so he should know.
As many as 3,000-5,000 Yates fans are expected in Austin this week, many commuting back and forth to work in Houston. Other high schools could take a lesson from the industry and tight-knit community shown by these young men and their families. It's no secret that many Texas public schools are underfunded, and they are often schools in less affluent areas. The Yates Lions, hailing from Houston's Third Ward, are no exception, and in three years they've not lost one player to no-pass no-play. This is due to an ethic of mutual support. In an area where the perils of street life lay waiting for the young, the kids from Yates have a long history of keeping each other focused on the ball. It goes back at least as far as 1986, when the Lions varsity football team, operating in only the second year of no-pass no-play, lost no players. This kind of discipline is a shared ethic for a team that without the booster club fundraising efforts enjoyed by many other schools, have raised their own money through car washes, bake sales, and sheer force of will to participate in tournaments on a national level. We spoke to alumnus Garry Walker (Yates '85) earlier today about what sets this team of brothers apart. "You know the top eight players have been playing together for four years through high school, and three of those have played together since seventh grade. I remember seeing them at football games, always eight or nine of them together. They have been raised as hardworking, respectful young people."
The press, however, often fails to notice these qualities. Instead, with winning margins as high as 135 points, the Lions have endured the criticism of running up the score. In fact, an article posted today by the Houston Press describes the dust-up between CNN and ESPN on the subject. And in a January piece from the Houston Chronicle, sportswriter Jerome Solomon defended the strategy of Yates coach Greg Wise. "We don't try to run up the score," Wise was quoted as saying, "we just play basketball." Why would we teach our kids to perform their best, not just in team sports, but for the rest of their lives, in everything they do, and then ask them to pull back on the threshold of realizing their dreams? Coach Wise regularly observes the proper etiquette of pulling first-string players out when they are winning. The problem, according to Walker, is that Wise is often having to do that by the second quarter. The Lions just obliterate their competition, period. Do we ask varsity football players to "hold back out there today"? To use one of Bun B.'s mottos: "Keep It 100." That means to give 100% in every endeavor. Are all of the kids in suburban schools like Bellaire and The Woodlands taught this ethic so fervently as Yates kids? Just asking. Garry Walker put it best when he said, "That school was my father."
The Yates story is one of achievement, brotherhood, and community, one of a team of 16 players from an inner-city boys' team that through hard work and an ethic of reaching for the highest mark, made it to the top. It is a mistake not to recognize that these are our future leaders; in community, sports, politics, the sky is the limit. Show us everything you've got: Go Lions!
Update: Yates defeated Lancaster 92-73 in front of 16,755 raucous fans to bring home the title. Their second in as many years.