By enrollment standards, they’re among the smaller high schools in the Greater Waco area. Combined, the total ninth-through-12th attendance at Live Oak Classical School, Vanguard College Preparatory School, Methodist Children’s Home and Parkview Christian Academy would still total less than one of Midway’s graduating classes.
But when it comes to the realm of private school six-man football, these teams consistently achieve some very big things.
Vanguard, which boasts an 8-2 record this season, will play in the TAPPS Six-Man Division I state quarterfinals this week, just two wins away from a trip to the state final. Live Oak has also reached the quarterfinal round in TAPPS Division II, a familiar spot for a program that has won three state championships, most recently last year.
Parkview and MCH, meanwhile, will both play for state titles this week in their respective divisions. Parkview (8-3) will try to bring home the school’s first state championship in 21 years when it duels Corpus Christi Annapolis Christian on Saturday in Houston in the Texas Christian Athletic League (TCAL) Division II final. MCH (8-4) will be angling for its first state trophy when it meets Wylie Prep on Friday in Springtown in the Texas Christian Athletic Fellowship (TCAF) Division I title tilt.
So, what’s the deal? Why are Waco’s private schools such six-man football studs?
Well, each school carved out its own unique path to glory’s doorstep. But, in many cases, they used similar tools. The coaches said that it’s impossible to maintain any sustained level of success without the players investing a healthy amount of time and energy.
“You have to have kids take ownership,” MCH coach Matt Rodgers said. “Our situation is different in that we may have kids who are here just their junior and senior years and then graduate. For us, it’s about finding those kids who will take ownership. I always tell them, ‘This is your team, and how successful you are comes down to y’all.’ It’s boys taking the initiative, holding each other accountable.”
Over off Lake Shore Drive at Parkview, head coach Bryce Frazier sings a similar tune. Frazier is a Parkview alum whose father Tommy was the Pacers’ offensive coordinator when they last won state in 1996, as an 11-man team.
When Frazier took over as the Pacers’ head coach last year, he needed to shake the players out of their old way of thinking. Parkview had won just nine games over the previous four seasons, and the Pacers had lost all expectation or hope of winning. But in Frazier’s first year at the helm, Parkview went 7-4 for its first winning record since 2004.
“The vision was, we have to change the mentality,” Frazier said. “I think the kids had gotten it into their heads that, ‘We’re not good enough, we can win here.’
“But I wanted to let them know, ‘Hey, we’re going to shoot for championships.’ One of the statements I heard a lot was, ‘Oh, we’re just Parkview.’ But I don’t want to hear that. Being Parkview means being more than that.”
Of Waco’s four six-man private school teams, Parkview has the longest football tradition. The school was established in 1976 with 25 students, and began fielding 11-man football teams shortly thereafter. It won TAPPS state titles in 1991 and ’96, but declining enrollment around the turn of the century prompted a move to the six-man ranks in 2004, after canceling its final 11-man season in 2003.
A string of hard times on the gridiron followed, including a brief experiment where Parkview and now-defunct Texas Christian Academy teamed up to field athletic teams. In Frazier, the Pacers have found someone who didn’t view the Parkview job as flyover country on the way to greener pastures.
“I don’t want to toot my horn, but I care about this place,” Frazier said. “I went here, my parents worked here, and I wanted to restore the old tradition. I really care about getting it right.”
The record books for Waco’s other private six-man teams are much thinner, as all kicked off football programs in the 21st century. Live Oak played its first season in 2009, Methodist Children’s Home fielded its first team in 2010, while Vanguard followed suit in 2011 after many years as a predominantly basketball school.
However, in a very short time, Live Oak has scripted a rather classic tale.
“Our school model really helps,” said Live Oak’s Jordan Barker, the only head coach the program has ever had.
“When we were just starting out, we were getting kids who were looking for that classical education, growing from the inside out. I think the fact that we practice early (in the morning), which we’ve done since we started the program, forces guys to be disciplined, too.”
From the get-go, Live Oak delivered far more lumps than it received. Barker held a keen understanding of the six-man game, as he played at Whitharral in the Texas Panhandle and went 52-2 as a high school player with a state title in 2001.
The Falcons took to his high-flying schemes rapidly. Live Oak has compiled an 86-23 record since 2009, winning a pair of TCAL state titles in 2011 and 2013 before seizing hold of its first TAPPS title last season.
In fact, Live Oak’s current 5-6 record is the worst in program history. And yet the Falcons, who were beset by injuries early in the season while trying to navigate a typically tough non-district schedule, remain as much a state championship threat as ever.
“When you have tough games, which we had a hard schedule, sometimes they stand around waiting for it to happen a little bit,” Barker said. “They’re the ones being asked to do something now. They’ve been spoiled a little. … But I think we’re coming together at the right time.”
Barker said his program has also greatly benefited from a commitment from Live Oak’s administration. His coaching staff includes three assistants who were former six-man head coaches. And the program’s next step in its development is a construction plan for a new home stadium that the school hopes to open next to the Silos in the fall of 2018, where its current practice field sits, at a cost of $1.75 million.
Vanguard opened in 1973, and its gymnasium is crammed with banners trumpeting the school’s achievements in sports like basketball, golf, tennis, baseball and softball. But administrators opted to forgo playing football until 2011, when enough students expressed interest in starting a team.
Head coach Zach Seifert took over in the second season. The Vikings took their lumps in their infancy, winning a combined seven games in their first three seasons.
But the players seemed to be having fun, and in time, they were able to recruit reinforcements.
“Numbers,” Seifert said, when asked what helped the Vikings become a successful program.
“The more kids we were able to get out here, it just gave us a better chance. We were able to use kids on the scout team, develop guys for the future. Now you’re not just relying on your best players, but you have depth.”
Seifert said that his players also made a commitment to the fundamentals of football, focusing on tackling and blocking, rather than the “razzle-dazzle” that some six-man teams employ. The Vikings moved into historic Paul Tyson Field on a full-time basis for the 2014 season, and that made a significant impact as well.
“It definitely gave us a home-field advantage,” Seifert said.
Alas, Vanguard will have to look for a new home field for the 2018 season, as Paul Tyson Field is slated for demolition, Seifert said.
Challenges will undoubtedly await the other programs as well. Injuries are always a significant concern for six-man teams and their smaller rosters. Over at MCH, Rodgers said that his players sometimes grow weary of one another, because they also live together on the Boys Ranch near Axtell. “I don’t want to see my family all the time, so I can imagine how they feel,” Rodgers said, laughing.
But all four programs have attained an enviable level of consistency. Just in the past three years, they’ve combined for a record of 92-47.
“Man, we have some good six-man football around here,” Seifert said.
Added Rodgers, whose team played all three of its Waco counterparts this season: “It’s pretty neat that we’re all in different divisions, and all having success. … I’m good friends with Jordan Barker’s wife, Rachel, so I’ve known Jordan forever. And, really, with any of those guys, I have no problem picking up the phone and calling for advice if they’ve played a certain team, or just piggy-back and get ideas from each other.”
Previewing the state title games for Methodist Children's Home and Parkview Christian as well as TAPPS quarterfinal action for Vanguard and Live Oak.