One by one, they begin gathering beneath the giant oak tree. Some are short and frail, while others are tall and robust. Most are clad in T-shirts and gym shorts. But two of them conspicuously sport street attire.
ÒCoach, all my practice stuff is in my momÕs car, but my dad dropped me off this morning, so . . . Ó says one of the boys.
The coach looks at the other. Body language suggests he seeks an explanation.
ÒOh, uh, coach, my ankle, it hurts, think I rolled over on it yesterday.Ó
And before anything else can be said, a white Jeep pulls up. The quarterback and a couple of cronies pile out. As they race toward the field, the others, all 12 of them, file in behind. ItÕs practice time Ñ gotta get ready for tomorrowÕs big game.
At Dallas Academy, they play a different brand of football: six-man. Instead of 11 players lining-up against 11 players, six line-up against six.
The game is played on an 80-yard field, and everyone on the field is an eligible receiver. Games are fast-paced and often high-scoring affairs.
ÒItÕs a speed game,Ó says Dallas Academy coach Phil Flatt. ÒSpeed is more important than size.Ó
No football program even existed at Dallas Academy until 1994. Flatt was brought in as an assistant coach from Duncanville Christway, one of the few area schools that fields a six-man team. After four weeks, Flatt was elevated to head coach.
The Golden Eagles went 3-7 that year and quickly earned a strong following.
ÒIt has helped as far as school spirit,Ó Flatt says. ÒWeÕve had good support from parents and our administrator.Ó
Last year was the Golden EaglesÕ coming-out party, as they steamrolled to an 8-4 record that landed them in the state semifinals.
ÒThat was a big achievement,Ó says junior wide receiver-cornerback Adam Roof.
ÒWe gave it our best, and it felt great.Ó
Flatt hopes last yearÕs team set a precedent for future success, but admits the team suffered a mild drop-off this year after graduating two of its stars.
ÒThe challenge (for me) is teaching the game,Ó Flatt says. ÒWith only two coaches, we donÕt do as much as weÕd like to.Ó
The enrollment cap for playing six-man football is 89, a number that Dallas Academy perennially straddles. If enrollment stays above that mark for two consecutive years, the school will be forced to abandon its program or play 11-man, an unpromising fate for a team that suits up an average of 15 players a season.
Flatt says that while 15 players represent a large six-man roster, itÕs hardly adequate for an 11-man team.
ÒWe would try to have a program, but we wouldnÕt be as competitive.Ó
The players seem to love the six-man game. While some have played 11-man in the past, most have never played football at all and simply enjoy the opportunity to compete.
ÒEverybody gets playing time,Ó says senior tight end-defensive end Lee Coffee, a first-year player.
ÒYou play on a smaller field, and thereÕs a lot more running.Ó
Dallas Academy plays its home games in Richardson at the RISD Greenville Avenue Stadium. For information, call the school at 214-324-1481.