The Numbers Are In: SSHS awaits February realignment results to find out new district

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Dec. 22, 2007 - When it comes to the UIL's biennial redistricting plan, one thing is certain - if someone says he knows what will happen, he's wrong.

The University Interscholastic League is currently working on the redistricting and realignment plan for the 2008-10 school years, and it is kept more secretive than national security.

The UIL staff has taken the enrollments reported by the 1,100 high schools in the state on Oct. 26, and are ranking and mapping them to come up with Class A-5A schools and their districts.

Currently, Sulphur Springs is in a district with Texas High, Mount Pleasant, Lindale, Paris and North Lamar. That will almost assuredly change when the new districts are announced at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

That's because Paris and North Lamar are both expected to move down to Class 3A after reporting enrollments near or below the current 3A cutoff. The cutoff for each classification almost always goes up every two years.

For example, the top limit for Class 4A went up about 50 students from the 2004 realignment to the one in 2006. If that happens again, expect to see Longview and Rockwall drop down from Class 5A, while Lindale, Henderson, North Lamar and Paris all go down to 3A.

In fact, Sulphur Springs, which turned in an enrollment of 1,096, will probably be one of the smallest schools in Class 4A next year.

Geographically, Sulphur Springs is in a position to go in three or four different district make-ups.

SSHS athletic director Greg Owens is open for anything.

"Nobody knows what will happen," he said. "It's funny when you talk to people, depending on where they are, their scenarios are different because everybody looks at it from their perspective."

He has talked with officials from metroplex-area schools like Rockwall and Royse City, and from coaches from Sherman and Denison, as well as numerous East Texas officials from the likes of Longview, Whitehouse and Kilgore.

"Here we are, sitting right in the middle of those scenarios," Owens said. "We put our schedule together in two-year spans, and I don't know. I don't have an idea where we're headed."

If Lindale, Henderson, North Lamar and Paris all go to Class 3A and Longview drops down to 4A, then there will be 11 Class 4A schools in East Texas, counting SSHS. That's too many schools for one district and not enough for two.

That could send Sulphur Springs west to form a district with Greenville, Royse City, Terrell, Forney and maybe the Rockwall schools.

Or, the Wildcats could be reunited again with Sherman, Denison, Greenville and some other schools in that direction.

Of course, Sulphur Springs could also be paired with Mount Pleasant, Texas High, Longview, Pine Tree, Kilgore and Hallsville.

It all depends on how the UIL sees things.

The way the UIL operates is that once all the schools have reported their enrollments, they are ranked in size.

The UIL staff then starts in Class 5A, taking between 220 and 245 schools for the largest classification. Since four teams in each district make the playoffs, the UIL tries to make as many seven- and eight-school districts as possible. But, with 32 districts, some of them have to have six schools to get under the 245 limit.

The staff starts out west, using push pins and rubber bands to group schools into districts, and works its way east.

Once 5A is realigned, then the UIL takes the next-largest school and works down from there. The idea is to try to keep the largest enrollment and smallest enrollment in the same classification near a 2-to-1 ratio.

For example, if the largest Class 4A school has 2,000 students, then the UIL will try to draw the bottom line at about 1,000 students. Those figures are probably close to what 4A will have this year.

Although, there is also the conspiracy theory that the Class 4A limit will be one student above whatever Highland Park turns in. This year, that was 2,025. That's a 51-student jump from the current 4A ceiling of 1,974, which is plausible.

There is also the probability that Class 4A will take four teams to the playoffs starting next year. If that happens, the UIL will try again to draw as many seven- and eight-team districts as possible. Superintendents voted on the proposal this month, and the results will be announced in January.

"Maybe they are going to make 4A a little bit bigger since they're probably going to take four schools to the playoffs," Owens said.

One of the problems facing East Texas is that almost all schools are getting smaller in enrollment or staying the same. In the last generation, the schools that have dropped classifications are numerous: Paris, Greenville, Texas High, Marshall, Nacogdoches, Winnsboro, Gilmer, Liberty-Eylau, Atlanta, Daingerfield, Pittsburg, Hooks, DeKalb, New Boston and Quitman just to name a few.

With more expected to drop down this year, the travel gets longer and longer for those remaining in Class 4A.

"In East Texas, every school is getting smaller because they're leaving East Texas and moving to the big cities. That's just a reality," Owens said. "The UIL may throw East Texas in a 10-team district and say 'Ya'll figure it out.' There's going to be travel for somebody - there has to be.

"I still see East Texas not gaining kids back because there aren't any big jobs bringing these families back to East Texas."

One of the problems facing the UIL is that there are several schools that can't be grouped geographically close enough to other 4A schools to make travel pleasing. Texas High, Nacogdoches and Whitehouse/Jacksonville fall into that category.

That could trickle down to Sulphur Springs having to travel for district games against the likes of Marshall or Jacksonville. That's bad enough on a Friday night, but doing it for subvarsity games on Thursday or basketball/softball/baseball contests on Tuesday is tough on coaches and students alike.

The UIL does allow a school to protest a realignment on the basis of lengthy travel, and every now and then a school is successful.

Realistically, a school's fate is sealed on the first Tuesday of February.

On that day, Owens will go to a metroplex region service center to pick up the realignment packet and cement a football schedule. He goes there because there are about 300 other coaches in the room doing the same thing.

Superintendent Patsy Bolton and former AD Dwayne McMeans usually go to the regional service center in Mount Pleasant to pick up a packet as well.

Owens already has Whitehouse, Sherman, Denison and Paris lined up for football games next year.

"The thing is," he said, "I could be in a district with any of those teams. Then, I have to go looking for other games."

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