By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
The new University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitive alignments sent different messages to the different Hays County high schools along Interstate-35.
To Hays High School, it said, “Congratulations on your football team’s guaranteed playoff appearance. Good luck against the Houston schools in the playoffs.”
To Lehman High School, it said, “As a reward for all your suffering in the first two years of varsity football, we are laying open the path to the playoffs. Good luck against the Houston schools in the playoffs.”
To San Marcos High School, it said, “Good luck making the playoffs. Now that we’ve seen you can qualify against Austin schools, let’s see how you do in the San Antonio area.”
Still another Hays County high school, Dripping Springs, received still another message: “You don’t have to make sense of your district. You just have to play in it.”
To the high school sports fans of Hays County, the alignment sent the most frustrating message of all: “We don’t recognize Hays County as a continuous community of interest. Hays County is the junk drawer of Class 4A. Whenever we need some part to make the other pieces fit, we reach for a Hays County school and plop it down to fill in the gaps.”
Every two years, anticipating a new high school sports alignment, Hays County fans dream of a nice, compact district that would include Hays, Lehman, San Marcos and Dripping Springs, maybe with a couple Austin schools, or the Schertz-Cibolo schools, the Comal County schools, Seguin – some kind of arrangement that includes all the local schools.
And every year, that dream is blown apart when the alignments go public. Three Hays County school districts have Class 4A high schools. And all three school districts are in different competitive districts.
Most stunning to Hays is a first for its 40-year history, a Region III assignment that will take it into the teeth of the Houston area for the playoffs. Given recent Hays history, it kind of figures.
As recently as 2005-06, Hays played through Region II, though in Class 5A. Region II is oriented towards the eastern half of the Metroplex, meaning the Rebels, as the southern-most athletes, played to the north.
The present alignment finds the Rebels in their most traditional home, Region IV, which is South Texas. The Rebels mostly play schools between Buda and San Antonio during the season and, if they can survive those first couple playoff rounds against San Antonio, they play the Valley.
The best and most interesting Hays arrangement in recent years involved those alignments of 2000-2004, which placed the Rebels in Class 5A against Austin schools during the regular season, then dropped them into the San Antonio area for the playoffs. The seasons had a nice regional division about them, which pretty well described where the Hays school district is situated.
But the new arrangement, which takes place for two years starting in the fall, looks like a strange, new world. Instead of being the southern-most school in Region II or the northern-most school in Region IV, now Hays is the western-most school in Region III.
The good news: that about wraps it up for where Hays can go. We’ll never find Hays in Region I, which runs basically from El Paso to Fort Worth. It should here be mentioned here that the remaining Hays County high school, Wimberley, did move to Region I in Class 3A, which lines up only 28 districts as a measure against the absurdity of four-team districts that prevailed for the last two years.
Hays and Lehman will go next year to District 17-4A, where they’ll line up with Del Valle, Lockhart, Elgin and Manor. Form and history say the Rebels should win that district during football season. Form and history also say, “Huh?”
Del Valle and Lockhart are right next door to Hays CISD. Elgin and Manor are up the road and east a piece. In recent years, they might count as terrible drives requiring commutes into north Austin on Interstate-35 during rush hour, then the east turn to U.S. 290, about 15 miles to Manor and 30 miles to Elgin.
It’s somewhat been likened to that dreaded semi-annual trip to Leander, except you could drive up to Leander early and kill time with a movie. But what are you going to do in Elgin or Manor? Elgin is easy. Barbecue.
The good news, if you don’t mind paying a toll, is SH 130, accessible from Ben White Boulevard. The new road runs right up to Manor and probably reduces the headache by a lot.
Competitively, the headaches don’t begin until playoff time. Of the schools in the new District 17-4A, Hays is, by far, the most successful in football over the last three years – overall record of 26-10, a playoff win in Class 5A and advancement to the Region IV title round in Class 4A. Every other school in the district has an overall losing record during the last three years and no playoff wins between them. Only Elgin, at 12-9, holds a winning record within its districts.
Combined with the UIL’s new admission of four playoff teams in Class 4A, the six-team District 17-4A constitutes a great opportunity for Lehman, which hasn’t won a district football game in two years of varsity competition. The Lobos could finish fourth in the district without suddenly becoming a power.
Following Hays, Elgin looks like a solid No. 2 in the new district with the return of its quarterback, top running back and top receiver. Manor, which won District 17-4A this last season, loses all of its key offensive producers. Del Valle, which built up to last season and still fell short in District 26-4A, could be looking at an empty cupboard. And Lockhart hasn’t been able to make traction in the last three years, winning only four district games during that stretch.
Life in a six-team district will pose challenges for all its members, particularly regarding the schedules. Assuming they all schedule zero week, they’re still going to find trouble matching dates out of district starting with Week 4 because most other schools will be starting district games and the District 17-4A teams will be in the dark.
The UIL has set up only four other six-team districts in Class 4A. Two are in the Amarillo area (Districts 3-4A and 4-4A), another is around Nacogdoches (District 14-4A), and the fourth is in the Rosenberg area (District 23-4A). The only six-team districts in Class 5A are District 17-5A (all Katy schools), District 6-5A (Metroplex interior suburbs), District 11-5A (Mesquite and Tyler areas), District 14-5A (Lufkin and Conroe area) and District 21-5A (Golden Triangle area).
How would Hays or Lehman like to schedule Southlake Carroll or Lufkin?
That said, a good number of six-team Class 3A districts are laying around the state, and a seven-team District 8-3A opens a fascinating possibility that Hays or Lehman could schedule Wimberley.
Whatever is available, the combination of a fairly easy district and a very tough region almost necessitates that the District 17-4A teams schedule tough for those non-district games. Losses won’t hurt them, anyway, and they’re not going to understand playoff tempo without lining up against good teams.
Just as happened to Hays when the Rebels dropped to Class 4A from Class 5A two years ago, San Marcos finds itself in a tougher district with its move down to Class 4A. The Rattlers are in the new District 27-4A, which includes elements from the old District 27-4A (Boerne, Kerrville Tivy and Alamo Heights), the old District 26-4A (Cibolo Steele, Schertz Clemens and New Braunfels Canyon), and the old District 25-5A (San Marcos and Seguin).
The bad news is that only four teams can go to the playoffs and all eight have demonstrated the goods in the last couple years. The good news is that playoff entry almost guarantees two weeks of playoff wins, if not more.
Dripping Springs finds itself back in District 25-5A with a far-flung group including defending state champion Lake Travis, Hutto Killeen, Marble Falls, Lampasas and Pflugerville Hendrickson. Going to the playoffs means opening against the entirely re-constituted District 26-4A, which will include all Austin schools.Email | Print