AUSTIN — Hunter Watson told members of the University Interscholastic League’s State Executive Committee on Tuesday that he’d forego football for baseball if they saw fit, explaining to the five-person board that the latter remains his true passion.
After their vote, Watson won’t have to pick.
The former Denison High School star, rated one of the best high school baseball juniors in the country, unanimously won his appeal, meaning he’s instantly eligible to take part in varsity athletics. The UIL ruling overturns an August vote by the 5-3A (I) District Executive Committee that denied him eligibility when he left Denison for Pottsboro.
Watson insisted he’s most excited about playing baseball for the Cardinals in the spring, but the decision also means he could be under center when the school’s football team hosts North Lamar on Friday night.
Watson’s family members hugged when the decision was handed down, and the star later explained that he’d made contingency plans if the board ruled he couldn’t take part in varsity sports this season, but was relieved to hear they wouldn’t be forced into action.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” Watson said. “Baseball is what I’ve always wanted to do. And this would have been really tough. I had a plan to take part in some events and showcases and see some scouts. But this is better.”
Although he’s best known for his diamond skills, Watson had a huge year at quarterback for Denison in 2015, accounting for 2,278 yards and 24 touchdowns with 11 interceptions through the air, while adding 697 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
Watson told the UIL board he’s been practicing in pads with the Pottsboro football team, but insisted he hadn’t planned on playing until he discussed it with buddies over the summer.
Matt Poe, Pottsboro’s head football coach and athletic director, said he felt the decision was justified.
“What’s right is right. The committee realized that the family moved to Pottsboro for reasons other than athletics. They did it for their family,” Poe said. “I don’t want to talk about what it means for our program. I know what it means for Hunter Watson, and he deserves that opportunity to play varsity athletics. I’m glad he’s getting that opportunity.”
Watson’s attorney and family, especially his father Cory, laid out a case that the family moved to Pottsboro for a multitude of reasons that didn’t include athletics. For example, Cory Watson said he thought the quality of life was better in Pottsboro, adding that he was worried about alcohol and drug issues at Denison after witnessing some Snapchat videos.
“(I saw) Denison student-athletes driving around in a vehicle smoking weed, flashing stacks of money. And from what I remember, the one who had a lot of money in his hand didn’t have a job,” Cory Watson said. “We, as parents, saw it as an environment that we had to get him out of. It was a decision we thought we had to make in the best interest of our kids.”
Watson’s two younger siblings are also attending classes in Pottsboro, and although the family has been renting a home there for the past few months, Cory Watson told the UIL board that there are plans to build the family’s dream home in the quaint community.
It’s rare that a unanimous district vote would be overturned by a unanimous state vote in the opposite direction, but Mike Motheral, the UIL Executive Committee Chair, said the family did an adequate job making its case.
“As we went through the process, it was hard to determine that there was really any dissatisfaction with the athletic department,” Motheral said. “There were some accusations, some he-said, she-said issues, but the bottom line, it seemed very evident to everyone up here today that these were parents who were concerned with their family. I just think in the long run when we took a look at all the evidence it was pretty clear. We don’t always get a unanimous vote.”
Those from the board who voted were Johanna Denson, the Pflugerville ISD athletic director; Gil Garza, the Dallas ISD athletic director; Lockney ISD Superintendent Phil Cotham; and Daryl Wade, a former Houston ISD athletic director.
“We’re just excited that Hunter’s going to get the chance to play. That’s all he’s ever wanted. This is a move that was in the best interest of our family and Hunter was caught up in the middle of this,” Cory Watson said. “It was a big swing, but I’m not surprised. The facts played out today, and what we saw was that justice prevailed.”