On Friday afternoon, Plano Senior High School overturned a highly criticized decision its administrators made the day before. Plano ISD announced on Thursday that it would be canceling its out-of-district football game—long scheduled for September 6—against El Paso Eastwood. The district explained in a statement that “the timing of the game falls too soon after the tragedy in El Paso,” referring to the former Plano High student who murdered 22 people in an El Paso Walmart earlier this month. On Friday afternoon, reporter Matt Stepp of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football broke the news that amidst outcry from sports media, their own students, and Beto O’Rourke, the school would be reversing its stance.
— Matt Stepp (@Matt_Stepp817) August 16, 2019
Initially, the administration’s explanation cited nonspecific concerns that left them “obligated to prioritize the safety of the participating players, students, families and communities.” The press release noted that the decision came after consulting with law enforcement—who, when asked by the Dallas Morning News, said that there were no threats made against the game. “There were none, whatsoever, at all,” the Plano Police Department’s public information officer told the paper. When Texas Monthly inquired about a more specific comment, Plano ISD sent over the same press release. Meanwhile, famed WFAA sportscaster Dale Hansen decried Plano for letting the terrorists win.
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The decision would have left Eastwood, which is less than three miles from the Walmart where the shooting took place, in the lurch—and head coach Julio Lopez spent much of Thursday and Friday trying to find another Texas school to make up the game and complete the season, a tougher task in West Texas than in a densely populated Dallas suburb. Lopez wasn’t shy about expressing his frustration—following the move, his Twitter feed featured retweets from media figures who have criticized the decision. He and the school also offered to shoulder the responsibility of hosting the game, if Plano was concerned about safety in their own community (a move that would mean Plano loses a home game). Now the game will be played on a bigger stage—at the Ford Center, in Frisco, in the Dallas Cowboys Star complex, where the NFL team practices.
We welcome Plano ISD to come play the game here in El Paso—our strong, safe, beautiful, binational community. Together, we can make it clear that racism and hate have no place in our state or this country. And the proceeds could go towards helping those impacted by this tragedy. https://t.co/Tz2nnfmlkU
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 15, 2019
It wasn’t just Beto, the opposing coach, and Dale Hansen who thought Plano made a mistake by canceling the game. Plano’s own students were similarly upset about it. According to WFAA’s Mike Leslie, Plano football players had been raising money for the El Paso community—and when it appeared that they’d have a free night, they were reportedly planning to drive to West Texas and deliver the proceeds to Lopez in person. Now they’ll be able to meet him in Frisco to do the same.
Outcry from their classmates may have helped spur the decision to reconsider too. A change.org petition, ostensibly started by a Plano Senior High School student, gathered more than five hundred signatures in a few hours. “Sports are such an important part of a community,” it reads, “and a meeting between El Paso Eastwood and Plano Senior High School would be an amazing opportunity to show love and support for the people of El Paso following the tragedy that occurred on August 3rd.”
It’s still unclear what, exactly, administrators were afraid of. Plano ISD superintendent Sara Bonser told the Dallas Morning News that she worried the game could “potentially provide a platform for those with extremist political agendas to amplify their message,” which is curious. The sort of extremists who might use the game as a platform to spread a hateful message, like the one espoused in the killer’s rambling screed, unfortunately aren’t hurting for places to do that.
Now that the game’s back on, the two communities will have the opportunity to come together—perhaps with a pregame or halftime ceremony—and drown out any hateful messages that could possibly be amplified.