UIL realignment comes with new methods, some of the same old intrigue

The University Interscholastic League entered a new realignment era even before the release of its 2018-20 districts Thursday morning.

For the first time, UIL officials opted for a December release of preliminary enrollment numbers submitted by the state’s public high schools. The move was designed “to increase transparency and provide for additional verification of enrollment figures,” the UIL said at the time.

Another new wrinkle involved the shelving of the tried-and-true method of using rubber bands and thumbtacks on a wall-sized map to link schools into UIL districts. Instead, UIL officials turned to mapping software to help with the process.

View our interactive map that shows how UIL realignment impacted area schools.

Still, the latest biennial realignment came with the usual intrigue and surprises, including a pair of nine-team districts populated with Class 6A schools in the Austin area as well as newly fashioned district rivalries in a revamped approach to Class 5A football in Texas.

Despite the changes, UIL director of athletics Susan Elza said the organization’s offices in East Austin were “strangely quiet” on Thursday.

“I’ve gotten a few calls and texts from some folks I know, but not much,” Elza said shortly after the results of realignment were made public at 9 a.m.

Elza said the use of mapping software made the three-week process of sorting schools into districts “much more efficient.”

“It’s hard to break that tradition because it had been part of our culture for so long,” Elza said of the previous re-districting method, “but, gosh, there’s more than 1,200 (high) schools in the state, and we don’t have all of them memorized. This map service really was helpful.”

Regardless of the methodology that brought it to life, the UIL’s inaugural preseason divisional split for Class 5A football will create some intriguing matchups in Central Texas.

Dripping Springs and Seguin will join the six Austin school district teams in Class 5A, Division I — McCallum, LBJ, Crockett, Lanier, Reagan and Travis — in District 12. Neighboring District 11 in Division I consists of a powerful lineup featuring Cedar Park, Hutto, Georgetown, Rouse, Manor, Pflugerville and Connally. Five of those teams qualified for the playoffs last season, and Pflugerville could be rejuvenated by its drop from Class 6A.

“Being in a seven-team district with the teams that we’re in with? Whew; it’s a brute,” said Rouse coach Joshua Mann. “You’re going to have to play every week against great coaches. It’s going to be a challenge.”

The lone Class 5A, Division II district in the Austin area, comprised of the area’s smaller 5A schools, includes Bastrop, Elgin, Cedar Creek, Marble Falls and East View, along with Leander Glenn and Pflugerville Weiss, which will field varsity football teams for the first time in 2018. The district also includes powerhouse Brenham, which is more than 60 miles down U.S. 290 from its nearest district neighbor, Bastrop.

The divisional setup for football will apply only to that sport in Class 5A. Districts for basketball, volleyball and other sports were set absent divisional considerations. For example, when it comes to boys or girls basketball, District 17-5A consists of Cedar Park, Rouse, Glenn, Marble Falls, Pflugerville, Connally and Weiss.

According to Elza, the Class 5A split didn’t cause UIL officials any more consternation than what comes with the usual juggling of schools until they land in districts.

“When you have multi-school districts that have to stay together, it is a challenge, and I think we see that in every class,” Elza said.

The area will have two nine-team Class 6A districts. The Class 6A schools in Williamson County will share District 13 in Region II with Vandegrift, and Lake Travis and Westlake will reunite with the Austin school district teams from Bowie, Austin High, Anderson and Akins in District 25. Del Valle, Hays and Lehman also will be part of 25-6A. San Marcos will shift south into a suburban San Antonio district.

In Class 4A, Division I, traditional rivals Burnet and Liberty Hill will remain in the same district, but they will no longer be part of a brutal grouping that included state powers Waco La Vega, China Spring and Gatesville. Instead, Liberty Hill and Burnet will be in a Region IV district that includes Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg, Lampasas and Taylor.

New technology didn’t eliminate some questionable geographic placements for a few Central Texas teams. Brenham will have to drive more than two hours to face some of its new district foes, and Lockhart will be the only Austin-area school in a Class 5A, Division II district that includes three San Antonio schools plus Uvalde, Boerne, Medina Valley and Kerrville Tivy.

Every school has the option of appealing its district placement. A written notice of an appeal is due to the UIL by Feb. 11, and Elza said the process of hearing and ruling on appeals “will keep us busy” for a few more weeks.

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