“We’re out on the field getting the Tigers ready for another successful run at a state title,” chirps the voicemail for the Katy High School athletics department.
Before being asked to leave your “growl” and “pawprint,” you’ll learn what the school’s marching band sounds like, the number of national (three) and state (eight) football championships the Tigers have won and that Gary Joseph serves as both the head of the athletic department and the head football coach—all without anyone answering the phone.
It’s an understatement to say football is important to the Houston suburb, and if the impressive voicemail greeting doesn’t convince you, consider the $72 million the district just spent on a new stadium. Yes, for high schoolers. Legacy Stadium is the most expensive stadium in Texas (and thus, U.S.) high school history. It’s the latest entrant in what the local media refers to as a stadium “arms race.”
The 12,000-seat stadium, complete with luxury boxes and a giant video replay board (which alone cost $2 million), was built alongside the district’s old stadium (est. 1981) to provide for its eight high schools, each of which have around 3,000 students.
“Everybody in this community agreed that another stadium was needed—there was just a difference of agreement, maybe, on the cost and the size of the stadium,” Katy Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Lance Hindt told press before the stadium’s opening, alluding to the possibility that the end cost was higher than the $58 million bond approved by taxpayers in 2014.
Katy is making headlines now, but bank-breaking stadiums are becoming the norm around Texas, turning the Friday night games many non-Texans imagine as a charming, pastoral tradition into big business. Most stadiums due to open in the next couple of years have $45 to $70 million price tags, and that’s before inevitable construction overages.
“High school football is bigger in the state of Texas,” says Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD athletic director Scott Lehnhoff, riffing on the cliche that probably comes to mind for many when introduced to high school athletics facilities that skew closer to “Jerry World” than Friday Night Lights.
“Friday nights in the state of Texas are not just a football event; they’re for the whole town.”
The epicenter of luxury school stadiums is the Dallas/Fort Worth area, which can claim to have started the trend almost 20 years ago. In 1999, Birdville ISD included the state’s first video replay board in its new stadium, prompting skepticism from press and refs alike (the latter were concerned in-game replays would affect their ability to officiate).