Commentary

Deion Sanders aims to change lives

Despite critics, Hall of Famer wants to blend best of academics and athletics

Updated: April 13, 2012, 12:32 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

Deion Sanders, for one of the few times in his life, was naive when he decided to open a charter school in Oak Cliff that would blend fine academics and athletics.

He figured folks would be thrilled to have a Hall of Fame athlete giving something tangible back to the community. He thought folks would be happy that his school -- Prime Prep Academy -- would focus on science, technology, engineering and math, providing Dallas Independent School District students one more educational alternative.

Not quite.

[+] EnlargeDeion Sanders
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinDeion Sanders' Prime Prep Academy charter school is set to open Aug. 14 in Oak Cliff.

Some folks haven't viewed the charter school as a win-win for kids, which Sanders has envisioned since he first conceived the idea of opening a charter school.

The reality is there was no way DISD coaches, especially football and basketball coaches, were going to let Prime Prep wind up with the finest athletes from their campuses without some backlash.

Self-preservation is the most basic and instinctive of human qualities. Local high school coaches certainly aren't immune to it.

If the best athletes in DISD -- we're talking about the ones who haven't already headed south for Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville and Lancaster -- leave, then it will be even harder than it is for them to win right now with small staffs and pedestrian facilities.

Coaches who don't win eventually get fired.

So it's easy to see why some coaches could view Prime Prep as a threat. To them, it's about survival.

Period.

"We love to win. I'm not going to lie," Sanders said. "More than that, we love to teach. I'm about exposing kids to things they've never seen or dreamed about. I became a professional athlete because the things I saw as a child made me want to work hard to be the best.

"We're not out here trying to create athletes. We're creating dreamers and CEOs. Sports is the hook."

Enrollment at Prime Prep continues through May 4. School begins Aug. 14 with the first football practice scheduled for Aug. 1.

There are few things worse than rumor and innuendo, when it comes to high school sports.

Right now, as you would expect, Prime Prep has a heavy freshman enrollment because there are no eligibility issues for freshman.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors can certainly enroll at Prime Prep, but it's more complicated because they already have graduation plans that are mapped out.

No student can transfer strictly for athletic purposes. Students from outside the DISD attendance zone can't play varsity sports for a year.

Just so you know, the application for Prime Prep does not include a box for students to note whether they're going to play athletics.

Prime Prep has been working closely with the University Interscholastic League to make sure it's on one accord with all of the UIL's guidelines and policies. We all know the first time Prime Prep wins a football game, the UIL is going to be deluged with phone calls saying Prime Prep is cheating in some way, shape or form.

The reality is that any fuss about Prime Prep or any other charter school isn't really that much different than all the chatter associated with Jesuit when it joined the UIL in 2003.

Then coaches in suburbs such as Richardson, Plano and Carrollton thought Jesuit would recruit their best athletes or have some type of advantage because it was a college prep school.

Of course, that hasn't happened.

Jesuit has solid football and basketball programs, but it's hardly been dominant in those sports.

"We don't consider Prime Prep any different than Jesuit or any other school that wants admittance to the UIL," UIL Athletic Director Mark Cousins said. "We help make sure everyone is aware of our rules and follows them.

"And if people have questions, we answer them. If people voice concerns, then we look into them. We've been doing the same things since we started admitting charter schools."

At Prime Prep, each student will receive a laptop computer that contains software for all of his or her classes. That's right, no textbooks.

We live in the age of technology and the teachers at Prime Prep will teach their students digitally.

"The UIL is not just about football and basketball," Prime Prep director D.L. Wallace said. "We don't want kids to choose between athletics and academics. They can have both."

Sanders is determined to see that they do. And he could not care less what his critics say about it.

He's too busy changing lives.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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