By Gaige Davila
Though Point Isabel ISD (PI-ISD) has solved a scheduling blunder that was criticized heavily by band students, parents and alumni, the district is, as of this article’s writing, without a band director.
Point Isabel ISD band parents and alumni met with Superintendent Theresa Capistran early this past Wednesday, August 25, morning, asking for a resolution between the band and athletics department after band and football students’ schedules were changed. The schedule changes, according to the Port Isabel Band Booster Club (PIBBC), led to the resignation of longtime band director Scott Hartsfield, shocking the Laguna Madre community.
The Port Isabel Band Booster Club agreed to meet outside PI-ISD’s Central Office on Port Road, waiting for Superintendent Theresa Capistran to demand a meeting.
Lorena Hernandez-Gonzalez, the president of the Port Isabel Band Booster Club, said she organized the meeting after receiving a call from Hartsfield, telling her he had resigned.
His resignation, he told Hernandez-Gonzalez, was because he was frustrated with a new schedule instituted by PI-ISD for students who were both in band and football or volleyball.
This year, PI-ISD changed schedules for Port Isabel High School students in both band and athletics to follow a 3-2 structure: 3 days of band and two days of athletics. The scheduling had never been instituted before and, according to members of the PIBBC, was requested by PI-ISD Head Football Coach Tony Villarreal.
All the schedule did, according to parents from the PIBBC, was confuse students, some allege that it unfairly pressured them into choosing one activity over the other.
“The kids (were) confused, they didn’t know which way to go, and that was uncalled for,” Hernandez-Gonzalez said. She says that students alleged the athletic department was pressuring students to leave the band and stay in their athletic period. Hartsfield allegedly confronted Villarreal about the students’ claims, to which Villarreal said it was true, according to Hernandez-Gonzalez.
The PRESS has requested comment from Hartsfield and is waiting for a response.
In theory, Capistran told the PRESS, the district applied the schedule thinking it would help lessen the students’ workload, not intending to confuse and frustrate students.
Once Capistran arrived at PI-ISD’s Central Office, she motioned the group inside, dismissing the three police officers who showed up to, apparently, control the crowd. Capistran said she did not request they be there.
Inside PI-ISD’s school board chambers, Capistran listened to the PIBBC as several spoke about their children’s experiences with Hartsfield, frustrated with the change of their schedules and his resignation. Capistran told the group the onus was on her to get Hartsfield to return and to resolve the schedule issues.
“What I don’t like about any of this is that kids are being placed in the middle,” Capistran told the group, mentioning the students feeling pressured to go with one activity or another.
“We’ve been out for a year and a half for COVID, we want our kids to be part of everything because they’ve missed out on so much. I don’t want them to miss out on anything else.”
Hartsfield left the school sometime Tuesday, not letting any students know he had resigned, said one student who plays football and is in band. The student has asked to remain anonymous.
They heard Hartsfield and Villarreal arguing about the scheduling sometime Tuesday. Sometime after the argument, Hartsfield left the school. The student said they wished Hartsfield had told the band students he was leaving, but also wished that he and Villarreal had collaborated better on scheduling from the beginning. But, according to the students, football is the priority of the coaching staff.
The parents in the PIBBC allege this too: that the school district’s focus on football has negated the band program’s needs.
Hernandez-Gonzalez say the pressure comes from the school district wanting the football team to do well, as they did in the early 1990s when Villarreal was first head coach of the football program. Villarreal took the team to the state semifinals in 1994.
But to the PIBBC, the Silver Tarpon Marching Band, who has made it to state competitions for 10 consecutive years, deserve to march and play ball without interference. In a small community like Port Isabel, they say, students want to participate in multiple extracurricular activities.
“It has never been an issue before,” Rosa Montes, a member of the PIBBC, said. “Whether it was football, volleyball or whatever, it was after first period, since I was in school 30-some years ago. My nephews wore their football uniforms with their saxophones (while marching during football games).”
“Mr. Hartsfield never pressured them to pick from the two,” Hernandez-Gonzalez, who has a freshman and a senior at PIHS, said. “Instead, he tells them, ‘if you’re failing you’re not going to do either one.’ Then he helps and finds tutors for other students to get them to pass. If Mr. Hartsfield didn’t do that, then the students wouldn’t even play football.”
By Wednesday afternoon, Capistran ordered the first period to host band class exclusively, after a meeting with Villarreal and counselors and PIHS administrators. Capistran reached out to Hartsfield, as of press time, and is waiting for a response. She could not comment on whether he was still employed with the district as of press time.
Former students of Hartsfield’s spoke on what his alleged resignation meant to them and the Laguna Madre community.
“He inspired me to be a better leader, for all the kids, he’s always wanted to work with the athletics department,” Jose Gonzales told the PRESS outside of PI-ISD’s Central Office. Gonzales graduated in 2019 and was drum major for the Silver Tarpon Marching Band.
“We have kids that want to do a little bit of everything, that’s what our school’s been known for, it’s a great opportunity that we have that not a lot of other places can have. I understand where (the athletic department is) coming from where they want their kids to be dedicated to one thing, but our school is small.”
“He’s the reason why PI is still ‘PI,’” Luis Suarez, a 2020 PIHS graduate who played football and was in band, told the PRESS. “People know PI because of the band. So if he leaves, PI is going to be an old town basically: ‘what happened to PI?’”
Capistran denies that the district’s focus is exclusively athletics, she told the PRESS later Wednesday afternoon after reverting the schedule. Instead, she said, the schedule changes were made by the district, done “in good faith” but with bad results.
Specifically, PI-ISD had changed every student who had both band and athletics to the alternate schedule, Capsitran said, based on previous requests made by students. She said this was a mistake.
Villarreal, according to a current PIHS student who plays both band and football who wishes to remain anonymous, would coordinate with the students on when they could practice their fall sports.
Villarreal told the PRESS he’s sorry for the misunderstanding the scheduling caused between athletics and band, talking just before the Meet the Tarpons Football rally this past Wednesday.
“There was a lot of misunderstanding, we’ve always tried to share our athletes, and I apologize for the misunderstanding,” Villarreal said, saying he wishes One Act, the band, and the entirety of PIHS’ arts programs the best of luck.
“We want to stick together and be Tarpon strong when starting off the football season and the fall sports and that’s it. That’s what I’m about.”
Villarreal said he enjoys sharing players between the football team and band, mentioning quarterback David Cavasos from his tenure in the early 90s marching during halftime just minutes after leading the Tarpons for two quarters.
Villarreal declined to comment any further on the situation. Capistran could not comment on discussions between her and Hartsfield and his employment status within the school district by press time.
The PIBBC is happy that the schedule has changed back to what it was.
“I hope it stays that way, and I hope Hartsfield gets an apology,” Hernandez-Gonzalez said. She worries there might be retaliation from the athletics department or students. “They’re supposed to work together, what’s going to happen?”
Both the Silver Tarpon Marching Band and the Tarpons will be at Tarpon Stadium this Friday for their first game of the season, moving forward after an unexpectedly contentious start of the school year.
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