What to Know
- Gainesville State School is a juvenile correctional facility in unincorporated Cooke County near Gainesville.
- The kids in the detention center run by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department range in age from 13 to 18 years of age.
- The Gainesville State School Tornadoes compete in 6-man football against teams in the TAPPS division.
In Texas, football is a big part of high school, but at the Gainesville State School, football is just one part of the rehabilitation for juvenile offenders who are locked up for committing serious crimes.
The Gainesville State School in Cooke County, about 70 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, is full of repeat juvenile offenders who are given a second chance.
In their first year of six-man football, expectations were low, but the team never doubted they could play.
“Football will teach you a lot about yourself, if you allow it to," said Coach Roy Burns.
For most coaches success is often defined by wins and losses, but coaching at a juvenile prison is much bigger than football for Burns.
"That's something my friends always ask me, ‘Why take a job like this?’ Me personally, I like the challenge," he said.
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Burns understands these kids.
"My father was locked up way before I was born,” Burns said. “I have an older sibling who's locked up, he's serving 45 years."
"I'm not too quick to judge,” he said. “What I tell my young men is, ‘I'm going to give you a chance and whatever you do with that chance is on you.’"
The school’s former superintendent admits the team’s first year of six-man football was a challenge.
"Now, if you've never seen six-man football, just imagine a basketball game on a football field. It's wide open and fast,” said former Gainesville State School Superintendent Mike Studamire.
With only a handful of kids eligible to play, participating in six-man leveled the playing field, by allowing the Tornadoes to go up against smaller schools.
Players like Damondre Williams helped lead the way, he had big plans for a big playoff run – but days before the second round of playoffs, he learned his high school football career was over, but for a good reason.
"It's real frustrating because you can't play," said Williams.
Less than a month from being released, he got his GED and that made him ineligible to play. So he watched his team advance to the state final from the sidelines.
The team struggled in the state final, and while they didn’t win the game, it proved to be another opportunity to learn.
“Somebody is going to lose, same thing in life," said Burns. “It's about a game of inches, so is life."
It’s a lesson, hopefully none of them will forget.
Football is just one form of rehabilitation at Gainesville State School. CLICK HERE to learn more about the other lessons and work done at the detention center to help the juveniles turn their lives around.