Dec 14, 2021 - Sports

LBJ High School heads to state for first time ever

The AT&T stadium in Arlington.
The LBJ High School Jaguars football team is headed to Arlington later this week to play in the state championship game. Photo: Greg Nelson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

A touchdown catch with nine seconds left in the semi-final lifted East Austin's LBJ Early College High School into this Friday's state title game, making the squad this year's football feel-good story.

Why it matters: Over the last few decades, state champions have routinely come from deep-pocketed suburban districts.

  • LBJ's student body is largely Black and Latino, and nearly 75% of the students are economically disadvantaged, per 2019-2020 state stats.

The Jaguars' win secures the Austin school district's first title game appearance since the former Reagan High School's lost to East Texas' John Tyler High School in 1973.

What they're saying: "We want to represent for our community and for AISD as well," head coach Jahmal Fenner said after the game. "Our kids are prepared for this moment."

  • That resiliency extends to the coach, whose son was killed in late November.
  • “This is a community of blue-collar people,” Joseph Welch, principal at LBJ, tells Axios. ”We don’t have the best of this and the best of that, but we know that if we work hard enough, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.”
An LBJ player goes up for a grab.
An LBJ Jaguars player goes up to grab a pass in a game against the Manor Mustangs in August. Credit: Keep it Digital via AISD

Between the lines: LBJ has dominated the 4A Division I since last year, when the team lost in the semi-finals.

  • Its move to 4A, from the larger-enrollment 5A, was prompted by the school district's decision to move LASA, the school's magnet program for the liberal arts and science, to a separate campus.
  • It's part of a much wider conversation about the segregation of magnets from community schools in Austin.

Also competing this weekend in the larger-enrollment 6A division state title game: Football juggernaut Westlake High School.

  • The Chaparrals take on Denton Guyer on Saturday at 7pm.

Westlake and LBJ are forever tied in a notorious 1989 incident ahead of a game pitting the two schools at Westlake.

  • Someone had painted a racial slur on the visitors' seats.
  • During the game, some Westlake fans reportedly shouted a racial epithet at members of the LBJ band, and one supporter supposedly held a sign repeating the slur.

Eventually three students were suspended, and the Westlake football team was reprimanded by the University Interscholastic League.

Today, Westlake High is nearly 70% white, 13% Asian American, 12.5% Hispanic and less than 1% Black, per 2019-2020 state records.

  • LBJ High is 35% Black, 60% Hispanic, 2.4% white and less than 1% Asian American.

What's next: LBJ, which has won two consecutive regional football championships while competing in Class 4A Division I, will return to Class 5A in every sport next year — where it will compete against McCallum, Crockett, Navarro and LASA — allowing the team to renew city rivalries and save on travel costs.

  • Plus: There will be a send-off rally at LBJ High at 8am on Thursday. Wear purple!

Editor's note: This story has been corrected after incorrectly identifying where coach Jahmal Fenner's son was killed in late November.

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