By Moses Leos III
Wallace Middle School girls athletic coordinator Deborah Wills has seen the challenges of working with a limited budget.
With 400 total students in Wallace’s athletic program, staff must stretch the annual $8,000 to $9,000 stipend for the program’s entire operations cost.
As such, some things, such as new jerseys, aren’t always on top of the list.
“Our budget is pretty tight,” Wills said. “As far as uniforms, we have to go on a two-year rotation. No one’s uniform is updated now.”
But that will change come August. That’s when the school will receive a $14,000 grant from the J.J. Watt Foundation that will furnish new uniforms for three sports.
For Wills, the chance to acquire new jerseys for her students is “a blessing.”
“Our kids are going to be mind blown,” Wills said. “We’re fortunate to have great kids at Wallace. They are excited.”
The process began in 2014 after Chapa Middle School received a small award from the foundation named after Houston Texan defensive end, J.J. Watt.
The foundation, started in 2011, provides funding for uniforms and equipment to sixth through eighth grade afterschool programs and organizations. To date, the organization has donated more than $1 million to schools across the country.
It was in April when Wills contacted Connie Watt, mother of J.J and vice president of his organization. Through Watt, Wills learned she had to gather information on the budget Wallace spends on athletics.
Through a several month process, Wills tabulated how much the program has spent over the last two seasons. In addition, she also had to compile a complete list of the uniforms the school would order.
Wills said the majority of their stipend, which is what the school gets from Lehman High, goes toward purchasing safety equipment. Primary costs were made toward football, with the school upgrading football helmets to UIL specifications.
Other costs have gone to replace or upgrade equipment every year, such as nets, balls and other items for every sport.
Last season saw the school spend a “chunk” of money on a new weight program with Lehman High athletic coordinator Todd Raymond.
The money went to lighter bars, allowing athletes to lift with proper form.
It was two years ago when the school spent money for new uniforms. But at the time, only certain teams received new uniforms. Since then, the school has purchased single uniforms.
Some teams, such as the Wallace seventh grade football B team, played with jerseys that are about six years old.
With the school rapidly growing, Wills said it has been a challenge to keep up. Wallace has one of the largest middle school athletic programs in the district, according to Wills.
She said the school’s administrators do their best to help find additional funds. Fundraisers have also helped the program meet the costs with running an athletics program.
“As a growing program, it’s difficult to have every kid with a jersey that’s presentable,” Wills said.
After tabulating the numbers, Wills said the school needed 415 new jerseys to accommodate their students.
Of those, 300 will go to the Wallace 7th and 8th grade A and B football teams. Those teams will also receive new pads and game pants as well.
Other sports receiving new uniforms are the 7th and 8th grade volleyball teams, and the 7th grade boys and girls basketball teams.
Wills said she hopes to touch base with Connie Watt in the next week or two. By then she anticipates receiving the check, and she can put the order in for funds.
With a one-month turnaround, she expects the uniforms to arrive by the end of August.
But Wills never imagined gaining full funding for their order. She believed they could be open for only partial funding.
“Our kids work hard, and they play even harder,” Wills said. “It’s exciting to see that they can be proud of their success, but also go look nice as well.”