Editor’s note: This is the first half of a two-part Q&A with Dr. Charles Breithaupt, the Executive Director of the University Interscholastic League. Part 2 will be published Sunday.
ARLINGTON — The past nine months have seen everyone’s world turned upside down from what we all thought was a normal way of life. We have adapted to wearing masks, applying social distancing norms and learning that what we might ordinarily pass off as a cold or sinus infection might be much worse than that.
We’ve also seen the University Interscholastic League adapt to the ever-changing conditions of day-to-day life with COVID as well under the leadership of Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt.
Breithaupt, who has had the unprecedented challenge of leading the UIL through a global pandemic, took some time during the Class 1A-4A state championship week to sit down with BigCountryPreps.com for an exclusive interview to talk about what the UIL has done from the time the pandemic first hit to now and how it’s affected plans for them to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the state’s high school governing body.
Q: Dr. Breithaupt, thank you for taking this opportunity to sit down with us. What has it been like with UIL 100 at the state championships, because it’s a big deal for you guys?
A: “It really is. It’s a little bit of a letdown because we had so many great plans to bring former players back and some of our state championship teams. We were trying to reintroduce that energy that they had when they won championships or played on these fields, but it just was not to be done. We were just happy to get our games played, so we focused on that. I think that our game program really denotes the efforts of our staff to have these all-century teams, coaches and rivalries. I think that’s really fabulous. We are just showcasing it that way. We will probably do more during the 5A/6A games, hopefully we have a little bit more latitude to some things. It is a big deal to us because people don’t really realize that we didn’t start with football. Football was an afterthought, and so was basketball because we didn’t have any team sports back in 1910 when the UIL began (because) it was a debate league. Then they merged with the Track and Field Association and we had some tennis and track and field and it was all debate and spelling and those sort of things and football was being played. It’s not the 100th year of football because football was being playing in 1892. We know that there was some football that was organized loosely, but they weren’t playing for the state championship. Because there weren’t any rules, there were bad things happening — a lot of fights, a lot of gambling — and the coaches controlled the money with the gate box and it just got out of hand. The school superintendents asked the UIL to step in to help with it. The UIL at first didn’t want to do it and it took them 10 years before they said, ‘We will set some rules,’ and the rules they set, we are still using today — the parent’s residence rule where you have to live where you play. We do have some exceptions to that and then you only get four years to play and there’s an age rule. All that came out of that period of time and it’s withstood 100 years and I think that’s pretty fabulous.”
Q: You look at things that were in place 100 years ago and a lot of times people will say that the only way you can make progress is by changing. For so many things that were in place a century ago to still be in place today and such a big deal, that’s got to make you proud knowing that your predecessors had the foresight to know how to set things up.
A: “Brandon, I think right off the beginning that our forefathers set a standard to have fair play and when you show up to play us in the next game, I can have faith that the players you have are eligible according to the rules and they are the same age and same grade and you don’t have some hired guns that have come in. Getting that mark put in, I think, was astronomical and from that point forward, we have had tests against those rules. We’ve had lawsuits and all kinds of things have happened, but now we have a lot of waivers and exceptions to rules, but those rules have stood firm and they have kept a balanced playing field all across the landscape — I don’t care if you’re six-man football or all the way to 6A football. I think it’s withstood the test of time.”
Q: When you look at the UIL, a lot of people just look at the big sports — the football, basketball, baseball and softball, but the UIL is so much more than that. You’ve got one-act play, speech and debate among others, so people really overlook just how much you really do.
A: “I’m glad you asked that question because rarely does anyone ask about our academic competitions. We have more activities in academics than we do in athletics. When you think about the educational component of what we do, if we didn’t have the educational nature of our competition, why would schools even sponsor it? I mean, it would just be all club sports, but who else would sponsor a spelling competition for students or a math contest? The schools, and the schools wanted the League to be the one running those in a fair and equitable manner. That is the most important (aspect) to us because it’s the grassroots of who we are. We started as a debate league, an academic competition league and that too has withstood the test of time. These are activities that don’t garner any revenue and the one-act play may sell a few tickets, but for the most part, it is dependent on football generating some revenue so that we can pay for the work of those sponsors and judges and the contest. That, to me, really separates us from the rest of the world and every state association, including the one in Washington D.C., they all have athletics, but very few of them have academic competitions or the third caveat, which is the music competition. We just had our 2A, 4A and 6A marching contest over the early part of the week and I’m really proud of all those activities. There are a lot of kids, almost 2 million kids in Texas are in some kind of UIL activity.”
Q: That’s the kind of thing that can be easily overlooked even at Abilene High, which has the oldest marching band in the state of Texas.
A: “The Eagles knew how to do it! You talk about the history, we have a lot of great history with Abilene and the Eagles. If you’ve read your history of this, Amarillo, Abilene High, Breckenridge, little Breckenridge, were out there winning state championships. It shows you how unfair it was at the beginning and it took a few years before the League developed those rules. Breckenridge and Masonic Home were competing for state championships against the big schools like Abilene, Amarillo and Highland Park because they had move-ins where they were offering parents jobs, and it wasn’t just Breckenridge. I don’t want to pick on them. They would all offer parents jobs, offer them washing machines and dryers and cars and set the family up (because) the kid came with them and they would win state championships. So, what we do today, I think is really noble because of the way that it’s done. Great programs will recruit themselves. If you live in Austin, you’re probably going to put your kid in Westlake or Lake Travis if they are a football player, so a coach never has to say anything. The community will tell you if you ask at the local shopping center and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a kid that’s a good football player, where should he go to school?’ ‘Well, Westlake is pretty good, they won a state championship last year.’ That’s just the way that goes. It’s true in the Big Country and for years it was back-and-forth between Cooper and Abilene High. I have a videotape of Cooper with Jack Mildren against Austin Reagan. There’s a matchup that was really a historic game and Reagan won that game 20-19. Jack Mildren went on to big-time fame at the University of Oklahoma in the old Big Eight Conference.”
Q: Looking back on 2020, obviously there was a lot of blowback from stopping the boys state basketball tournament. Do you have any regrets from how things have happened this year or that if you had a second chance, you would go back and change how you handled it?
A: “It is the 100th anniversary of basketball too, and I’ll tell you that I’ve been to most of those state tournaments. I started going to the state tournaments in 1957 with my dad when I was a little kid, 4 years old. It’s been a big part of my life and I’ve gotten the opportunity to coach at the state tournament and win a state championship and it’s one of the biggest things that I’ve ever done. For us to have to stop in the middle of the tournament, it made me sick at heart. We were in shock when we left in March and went up to the Alamodome office and talked to them about what was next. We already had a date penciled in two weeks later in April that we were going to (come back) and finish the tournament. That’s how naive we were. Then we got home and the schools didn’t even come back. It was just awful. Would I do anything differently? Yeah, I would try my best to have sped the tournament up, and maybe even played a couple of days earlier. I don’t know. Nobody really thought that it was that bad, to be honest with you, because we played the girls tournament the week before and the Big XII and every conference tournament was going on and they started dropping. I was sitting at dinner that Wednesday night before the tournament with some of our sponsors and I saw the NBA decision to just drop everything and stop a game before it began and just walk away with no plan to come back and I said, ‘We are in trouble.’ We thought that we could play the next day because it was smaller schools, but boy we had big crowds. I think a lot of people came out due to curiosity and then when we saw the Big XII took Texas and Texas Tech off the court, we knew we couldn’t go any further because it would not have been right. San Antonio was a hot spot and we had to get people home. I don’t regret that at all. I do regret that we didn’t get to crown champions. We recognized (the teams) in a fair and equitable manner and we don’t just cavalierly say, ‘You’re all state champions’ because that’s not right either. We did recognize them as state participants in the tournament and that they knew they were important to what we do.”