UIL realignment: A new dawn for Central Texas schools

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Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 12:01 am

A jam-packed room of windbreaker-adorned coaches anxiously waited. To kill a few minutes, a representative from the Region 12 Education Service Center grabbed a microphone and discussed some of the particulars of the process.

Suddenly, a couple of coaches called out, “Hey, it’s 9 o’clock!”

The rush was on.

Every two years, the same hectic scene unfolds, as coaches and athletic directors from schools all over Texas gather to learn their place in the new UIL athletic landscape. Even coaches who have been through more realignments than they can remember admit to a case of the butterflies on realignment day.

“It’s kind of like dominoes or cards — here’s your hand, this is what you’ve got,” said Crawford coach Delbert Kelm, who was one of the first to grab one of the 41-page packets containing all the new football and basketball district information.

For Waco ISD brethren Waco High and University, the UIL carved out a new district path, one that stretches southward. The Lions and Trojans hooked up with Temple, which was dropping down a classification, in District 17-5A, which also includes Manor, Elgin, Hutto and Pflugerville Connally.

It was something of a curveball for the Waco schools, who had competed in a Region I district the past two years with a number of schools stretching more toward the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

“Well, that was one of the possibilities,” University coach Keith Willis said. “I’ve never been right when trying to figure out what the UIL is going to do. But that was certainly one of the possibilities, that we could go south, we could go down toward Bryan, we could go I-35 again, west or east. It’s a black-and-blue district, there’s no doubt about it. Those are some pretty good teams.”

Waco High’s reunion with Temple should rekindle a rivalry that produced ample thrills during their years together in various districts in the old Class 5A.

But the likes of Elgin and Manor offer something new altogether.

“Certainly since consolidation we’ve never been with them, and we were wondering if we’d ever been in Region III before,” said Waco ISD athletic director Johnny Tusa, who coached the Waco High football program for more than two decades. “That’s another little nuance there. When you sit where we sit, you’re on the cusp of north, you’re on the cusp on the south. We’ve always seemed to be in Region II, which is obviously a northern direction.

“But there’s going to be opportunities and challenges no matter which direction you go. This is Texas.”

A ‘new’ classification

This year’s realignment period introduced Class 6A to the mix, though it was really only a cosmetic change. The UIL rechristened the six-man division as Class 1A, prompting every other classification to take on a new name: 1A became 2A, 2A became 3A and so forth.

For Midway, the Waco area’s largest school, not much changed. The Panthers will stay in the state’s highest classification in District 12-6A with Belton, Copperas Cove, Killeen, Ellison, Harker Heights and Shoemaker. The only big differences are the loss of Temple from the district, which means every team will have a bye week during district play, and the shift to Region II. The latter should benefit Midway from a travel standpoint, as Baylor has been the longstanding host for the Region II-5A championships in various sports as opposed to Texas Tech in Region I.

“We think it’ll be much better for travel,” said Midway athletic director Randy Weisinger. “It’s funny, because you’ll hear some schools grumble about being in a certain region while others in the room are saying, “Yea!” . . . We can’t say enough about how happy we are to be in this region.”

Weisinger added that a new region should offer up some interesting new matchups in a variety of sports, including the possibility of a Midway-Lake Travis meeting in the 6A Region III playoffs. If nothing else, Midway should see Lake Travis in nondistrict play, as Panthers coach Terry Gambill had that game tentatively planned for the season opener. (Schools cannot finalize game contracts until Feb. 21, per UIL rules).

For football, some of the old District 17-3A rivalries will be put on hiatus — or shift to nondistrict play — for a couple of years. That’s due to the predivided Division I and Division II setup in football.

As such, La Vega, Robinson and China Spring will stick together in District 13-4A Division I, along with Gatesville, Burnet and Lampasas. Meanwhile, Connally and Lorena will venture east to hook up with the old District 19-3A bunch of Fairfield, Groesbeck and Mexia as well as Rusk in District 7-4A Division II.

Gatesville coach Kyle Cooper has seen the Hornets fly in all sorts of directions over the years, but was glad to reunite with some familiar rivals. Plus, the district should allay some travel costs, as Gatesville will trade a few 80-minute trips (Brownwood, Stephenville) for some shorter 45-minute jaunts to the Waco area.

“I thought it’d be the Waco schools, us, Lampasas and possibly Taylor, if they made us a six-team (district),” Cooper said. “Burnet was a bit of a surprise, but we had a lot of these guys on our schedule. Obviously our old district and our district from the past two years kind of blended, but there are some good rivalries there. I think it makes for a really exciting district.”

In other sports besides football, the old 17-3A band will be back together in 17-4A, with Connally, China Spring, Lorena, La Vega and Robinson joining alongside Gatesville, which returns to replace West.

That’s because West is one of eight Central Texas schools dropping down a class. West’s enrollment slid about 60 students since the last realignment, and the Trojans will now compete against Hillsboro, Glen Rose, Whitney, McGregor, Grandview and Comanche in 9-3A Division I. (Glen Rose and Hillsboro are also moving down a class).

“It should be very competitive, top to bottom,” McGregor coach Tim Seward said. “Especially with all those teams dropping down. I think our district may have the most teams of anybody in the state, in terms of teams dropping to a lower classification.”

Another Central Texas-based 3A district is 10-3A Division II, where Marlin — much like West — finds itself surrounded by completely new district mates. The Bulldogs will be joined by Bruceville-Eddy, Clifton, Dublin, Jarrell and Rogers.

In Class 2A, fans of delicious football buffets in district play should look no further than District 8-2A Division I. That’s because Crawford and Mart, a pair of perpetual local powers, will meet up as district opponents for the first time since the 1998-99 alignment period.

“I’ll be honest, when I got up this morning and driving down here I just had a gut feeling that we’d be with Mart and Riesel,” Crawford’s Kelm said. “We didn’t end up with Riesel. But I kind of had this gut feeling.”

District of steel

The Pirates and Panthers form the backbone of a strong football district that also includes Bosqueville, which went 10-4 last year, Axtell, Itasca and Valley Mills.

As those coaches grabbed a packet and tore it open to reveal their fates, it resembled kids on Christmas morning. Of course, “Christmas is a little better for some people than others,” said Bosqueville coach Clint Zander, who now has to contend with Crawford along with Mart.

“Talking to Coach Kelm, he says they’re going to be down, but he says that every year and they play three or four rounds deep, so I don’t know,” Zander said.

Probably the big winner in that deal is Riesel, which not only managed to slide down a class but managed to avoid the Crawfords, Bosquevilles and Marts of the world.

“I never would have expected us and Riesel to not be together, being just eight miles apart,” Mart coach Rusty Nail said. “We knew we were at the crossroads here. But I never would have expected us to be in Region II, Riesel to be in Region IV and Centerville to be in Region III, when we were all worried about being in the same district.”

Instead, Riesel landed in District 13-2A Division I with Moody, Rosebud-Lott, Holland, Thorndale and Thrall.

Chilton shifted from a four-team district the past two years to an eight-team league. The Pirates, who have gone 65-34 with one state championship in eight years under Robert Little, land in a more north-leaning District 10-2A Division II consisting of Dawson, Frost, Hubbard, Meridian, Wortham, Dallas Gateway and Italy.

In the six-man ranks, where schools are still getting used to the Class 1A moniker, administrators in Abbott and Aquilla were stunned to see those longtime rivals end up in different districts.

“I’ve been there 22 years and with the exception of us being up in 11-man, I only remember one realignment where we weren’t together,” Abbott coach Terry Crawford said.

The rivalry won’t die though, as Crawford said that the Panthers and Cougars have a longstanding agreement to keep the game going and plan to play the week prior to the district opener.

Aquilla and Blum should tussle for supremacy in District 13-1A Div. I, which also includes Covington, Gholson and Kopperl, who have one all-time playoff appearance among them.

Abbott, a state semifinalist this past season, joins state finalist Milford in a powerhouse District 14-1A Div. I. Filling out the six-team loop are Avalon, Bynum, Coolidge and Penelope.

“Every time you try to guess the UIL, it kind of backfires,” Crawford said. “This year I tried to guess as little as possible and the little I did guess it backfired.”

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