Texas administrator warns of athletic-prep schools like IMG

AP News
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Posted: Feb 24, 2016 6:36 PM

A Texas high school football official is warning other public school coaches about the emergence of athletics-centered private high schools he feels could "destroy our profession."

Glen West, president of the Texas High School Coaches Association, warned of such schools — naming Florida's IMG Academy specifically — in this month's issue of the "Texas Coach" magazine. West is also coach and athletic director at Brenham High School, 80 miles northwest of Houston.

In his letter, West accused IMG of recruiting three top football players from Texas to play their senior years next season for the high school in Bradenton, Florida. He outlines ways to keep students from leaving the state for what he calls "traveling football" teams. Included on that list is a call for public schools to refuse to schedule schools such as IMG, which played a game last season in DeSoto, Texas.

"If someone is going to take my children, I don't want them coming and playing in my backyard," West told The Associated Press. "And I don't want them paying me to use my facilities so that they can get them."

The Florida academy was founded as a tennis boarding school by Nick Bollettieri in 1978. After being purchased by IMG in 1987, its 500-plus acre campus now features what it calls an "athletic college preparatory experience" in eight sports.

The school's national profile has increased greatly since it began playing football three seasons ago, drawing the praise of college coaches such as LSU's Les Miles and Arkansas' Bret Bielema, among others, and it will host Michigan's first four spring practices next month.

"We understand and respect (West's) position with regards to the challenges facing high school coaches in this increasingly competitive athletic environment," IMG co-managing director and athletic director Greg Phillips said in a statement. "IMG Academy is a very unique environment set up to maximize a student-athlete's development, and we recognize it is not for everyone."

Former Miami quarterback Steve Walsh is the director of the football program at IMG, while former Indiana high school coach Kevin Wright is the head coach. The school played games in New Jersey and Texas last season, also playing schools from Maryland and Louisiana in addition to schools from Florida.

Eighteen IMG football players from last year's team signed earlier this month with colleges across the country, with a national who's-who list of schools that included LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida State, Ohio State and Georgia, among others.

"Enrolling at IMG requires a special commitment and sacrifice by a family," Phillips said. "There are excellent coaches and programs available at public and private schools around the nation and ultimately a family needs to choose what is best for their child to maximize development."

It's the allure of "elitist" athletic training and college preparation that entices some football parents to spend the $72,900 annually for room, board and tuition to IMG, West said.

However, he scoffed at the implication that IMG does a better job of preparing football players for college than Texas high school coaches.

"We feel like we have a very good product that's proven, and we think our coaching staffs — we would put them up against anybody in the nation," West said. "I think you get the best coaching you can get right here in our high schools in Texas."

While IMG includes nearly 1,000 students from more than 80 countries, it's the domestic attraction that frustrates West.

Specifically, it's seeing students leave their communities with only a year or two remaining in high school — unlike the many basketball and football players who attend a junior college or final year of preparatory high school in order to meet college academic enrollment requirements.

"I'm not after (only IMG) at all; it's just that concept is something that hasn't been that way for years, and I don't see a reason for it now," West said.

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This story has been corrected to note the signing day was this month.