The football equation through the ages: talent and preparation plus sound execution equals victory, with occasional variations on the theme. Some folks like to throw in “luck” to the mix, but others would argue that luck, as former UT great Darrell Royal noted more than once, is ”the residue of design,” and is therefore covered by “preparation.”
At any rate, suffice to say that for the Jags of Econ, the 2010 football season is going to offer the chance to see a master plan come to fruition after a series of years in the football wilderness. Coach Oscar Salinas and Co. know that the time is now for a big splash on the 31-5A scene; a senior class that won the district as freshmen has come of age, and the anticipation is at a fever pitch out east.
But besides talent - and the Jags have it this season, big time - there are certain movements afoot within the program that perhaps signal this as the outstanding season Orange faithful have been waiting for.
The new rub comes in the preparation part of the equation. The 11th-year coach has instituted a fascinating experiment that could have come straight from the pages of social science research in the field of education. Salinas has concocted the football equivalent of “enhanced parental involvement.”
One of the big pushes in K-12 education these days has been to realize that in terms of student performance, the actions (or lack thereof) of parents in the quest for higher scores and lower dropout rates are frequently overlooked. Along with teaching kids, educators have begun to instruct parents of low-income students how to take a part in building knowledge of what it takes to be successful.
Salinas is on board with this paradigm shift and was eager to explain the Jag version of this routine.
“The coaches started this last semester, going out to visit parents of players, on their own time,” the coach said. “The goal was to try and get to know them more than we have in the past. Instead of saying hi to them for one minute on Parents’ Night, we decided that we had to go and spend hours meeting with them, away from the football.”
Traditionally, many Econ kids have had a hard time making it all work, mainly due to the fact that they are often forced to work to help support their families, a situation attendant in disadvantaged districts across the state. Many families find that meeting basic needs takes precedence over spending much time worrying about special school programs or extracurricular activities. A case in point would be migrant students, who are often late getting back into school in the fall due to their necessary trips upstate to earn enough money to survive.
“When we started visiting parents on their turf, we started to really understand some of the obstacles they face,” Salinas said. “In the past we had attendance and participation inconsistencies and sometimes we thought that maybe the kids were making excuses. But now, we know that most of them are not, it was an eye-opener for the staff.”
To bolster the 24-7 commitment it takes to build a successful program, the Jag coaches have been teaching the various player families the rudiments of the game.
“Some of them had no idea how much work it takes to play football,” Salinas commented. “They didn’t know what varsity was or anything about injuries, or techniques. So we have spent time getting them up to speed on the total picture, so that they might feel more knowledgeable about it all. We think that now that they understand more about what we are doing, they will be able to help us get better consistency, and in the end it will help our football team be better.”
For example, one of the migrant students on the team convinced his parents to let him stay behind this summer, thus to be able to take part in the vital offseason workouts that lead to success in the fall. The played entered the local workforce and was able to make enough money to contribute what he would have given on the out-of-Valley foray.
“The kids have to be here to learn, to get stronger, and to make this a more consistent effort,” Salinas stressed. “As we have gotten to know the parents, we have been able to impress upon them some of the requirements we have. I think they trust us more and are willing to work with us because they know we have gone out of our way to help them be a part of it. This is a really positive development, because this school has always had the unique situations with low-income, hard-working kids and families.”
Answering parent questions in a home dialogue format is an innovation that goes beyond football, though as stated, Salinas and his staff feel that the process has definitely helped with the team’s gridiron preparation for 2010.
“Getting feedback from them has really been good,” he said. “We used to see a lot of kids disappear during holidays, to Mexico, instead of being around to work. We need to have them here as much as possible, or they miss out on things that can help them achieve their goals. Now that we have this thing working well, we feel like everyone is on the same page, and we think the parents can continue to be involved in their kids’ lives, both on and off the field.”
No one knows what the final results will be. The Jags are a darkhorse pick to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004, with ample skill on hand. Now that the staff has taken the interesting step of bolstering enhanced parental knowledge and involvement, the preparation stage is looking good too.
All that remains is to advance onto the fall field and work on execution.
“We sat down and evaluated what we have been doing, and we decided to take this step,” Salinas said. “Now, we hope to turn this into a season to remember around here, but the impact of the parent visits is probably something that will extend beyond the field.”