Coaches expecting change in latest round of UIL realignment

The University Interscholastic League will announce the new district alignments for football at 9 a.m. today at the Region One Education Services Center in Edinburg, ending months of speculation and prognostication.

The biggest expected shakeup stems from the split of Class 5A schools into two divisions based on enrollment figures. The Class 5A schools with enrollments between 1,840 and 2,189 will be classified as 5A Division I programs. The schools with enrollments falling between 1,150 and 1,839 students will be classified as 5A Division II football programs.

The UIL released each school’s enrollment numbers in early December. According to the UIL’s figures, the Rio Grande Valley has 10 teams classified as 5A Division I football programs: Brownsville Lopez, Brownsville Pace, Brownsville Porter, Brownsville Veterans, Donna High, La Joya Palmview, Mission Veterans, PSJA Memorial, PSJA Southwest and Rio Grande City.

PSJA Memorial coach Michael Uribe has been through a number of realignments during his time at Memorial and his previous tenure at Mercedes. He remembers how the UIL used to do the realignments.

“In the past, they used the map and the pins and the cords and kind of trial and error as they worked across the state of Texas to equalize the amount of teams in each region,” Uribe said.

This year, Uribe said the UIL is using new technology.

“All the information by classification is being put into a computer program that is measuring time of travel, mileage and things like that,” Uribe said. “They are going to figure out all the different variables with regions and different districts. The UIL has never separated ISDs from other districts. For us, they always keep the PSJA schools together, so those are all things that have to get put into the program.”

“I’ve seen enough mock predictions to last a lifetime,” Mission Veterans coach David Gilpin said. “We’ve got the 10 teams from Rio (Grande City) to Brownsville. I don’t see how they can do much different with the Valley.”

In anticipation of the UIL placing the Valley’s 10 Class 5A Division I programs in one district, the 10 football coaches gathered for a meeting at PSJA Stadium on the morning of Jan. 24. At the meeting, the coaches deliberated about whether they should split the 10 teams into separate five-team divisions. As one 10-team district, each team would play nine district games, leaving only one week for non-district competition. As two five-team districts, each school would play four district games.

The coaches took straw polls and the majority decided that the district would not be split up any further and would have a nine-week district schedule, Gilpin said.

The 5A split has largely put teams’ non-district scheduling at a standstill or has severed local rivalries altogether. Mission Veterans faced Harlingen High and Mission High in 2017. Mission Veterans was tentatively scheduled to meet Sharyland High for a third non-district game this season.

“We felt like we had a really good non-district with Harlingen, Mission and Sharyland to get us ready for a potential playoff run,” Gilpin said. “Harlingen has their aggressive defense, Mission has run the ball extremely well the last couple years, and Sharyland has their wide open spread offense.”

Mission Veterans will likely save room for one game: the crosstown rivalry with the Mission Eagles.

“The Mission Veterans-Mission game is one that our administration and community wants us to play,” Gilpin said. “If it falls that way, we’ll play Mission in Week 1.”

Rio Grande City, which currently competes in the nine-team District 31-5A with Mission Veterans, doesn’t see much of a change with the prospect of playing in a bigger district.

“The overall sentiment of our meeting was playing everybody would be the fairest thing for our kids,” Rio Grande City coach Aaron Garcia said. “That way, you fall where you fall. The best teams by record will be the teams representing our district in the playoffs.”

The Class 5A Division II football district has been tougher to gauge for area coaches. Six Valley schools are classified as 5A Division II programs: Edcouch-Elsa, Mercedes, Roma, Sharyland High, Sharyland Pioneer and Valley View.

The six teams could be their own autonomous district, or more schools could be added to the pot. One such school could be Laredo Cigarroa — a school familiar with Valley competition after playing the last two years in District 31-5A.

“The speculation and the talk tells us that it’s going to be a tough district,” Sharyland High coach Ron Adame said. “Adding Edcouch and Mercedes into the mix makes it that much tougher.”

Some believe the district could balloon to nine teams with Cigarroa, Alice and powerhouse Corpus Christi Calallen.

“Coach (Kyle) Atwood just finished up his first year in Alice, and we saw them in the playoffs,” Adame said. “He’s got that program going again. The level of competition will be the same, if not better.”

“Even if it’s just us six, that’s a pretty strong district,” Sharyland Pioneer coach Thomas Lee said. “If we throw in Alice and Calallen, now you’re talking about the best district in the Valley.”

McAllen Memorial coach Bill Littleton said there are too many possibilities to predict the new districts ahead of time, but he has non-district opponents ready to go depending on the results of the UIL’s packets.

The Valley will have 21 schools in Class 6A. La Joya Palmview, PSJA Southwest and PSJA Memorial are dropping to Class 5A, while Donna North is moving up to 6A.

With 23 Class 6A schools heading into the previous realignment, the Valley was split into three Class 6A districts. Littleton expects the teams to again be split into three districts, ideally with three seven-team leagues. He has also heard speculation that the Valley could have two eight-team districts and one six-team district.

“There’s four different scenarios that can happen real easy. I can see any of the four happening. It’s just kind of hard to tell. The people (who) know is the UIL. Everybody else is just guessing,” Bill Littleton said. “If we could predict all that, I’d be in Vegas and not be coaching.”

Memorial is the reigning district champion for four seasons in a row, and Littleton admitted his biggest concern is the games leading up to district play. The last time the Mustangs were in a nine-team district was 2013, when the team finished in the fourth and final playoff spot behind McAllen High, Weslaco High and Weslaco East.

“Seven is fine. I really don’t worry about the size of (the district),” Littleton said. “My main concern is not so much who’s going to be in it, but if my non-district schedule is going to work for me.”

With La Joya Palmview moving down a classification into Class 5A Division I, the La Joya ISD campuses will be split into different districts for the first time since 2011. That year, La Joya Juarez-Lincoln played in District 32-4A, away from its sister schools.

Initially, both La Joya High and La Joya Juarez-Lincoln were hoping to schedule Palmview in non-district play. However, since the Lobos may end up with nine district games, they may have only a Week 1 date available, which would be against La Joya High, according to Coyotes coach Reuben Farias. This scenario leaves room for the Huskies to tinker with their schedule.

“We will have a totally different non-district schedule,” La Joya Juarez-Lincoln coach Tommy Garcia said through text. “There are so many different scenarios we have prepared for plan a, b & c. If we stay with McAllen schools, (we’re) looking to play some Edinburg schools. If we go with Edinburg schools, then (we’re) looking to play some McAllen schools. (We’re) trying to get games close to home so athletes won’t miss school time. We’ll try to set up games with 6A schools but you really don’t know till tomorrow morning. We will keep the same scrimmages but everything else is a big and exciting question mark.”

PSJA North coach Marcus Kaufmann has been through this enough to know to write his tentative schedule in pencil.

“It’s a crap shoot for everybody,” Kaufmann said. “No one really has any idea what is going to happen until it does. Some of the coaches are hearing there will be a six-team district, an eight- and a seven-team, others are hearing there will three seven teams. We don’t know. We are all going to keep on talking about it, but it won’t matter.”

Kaufmann saw one prediction that had his Raiders in a district with the three McAllen ISD schools, which hit close to home for the former Memorial assistant. North’s defensive coordinator, Will Littleton, is the son of longtime Memorial coach Bill Littleton.

“It kind of does (excite me),” Kaufmann said. “It’s interesting. If you look at McAllen Memorial and all my history with them, and then my wife is the principal down at McAllen Rowe. And then my daughter teaches and coaches over at McHi. So we have all been talking about it. That would be interesting.”

Although the four PSJA schools are split between 5A and 6A, the programs still wanted to face each other.

“Playing one of our sister schools and keeping that rivalry and that community excitement going is a priority for us,” Uribe said. “Like I said, ‘We made arrangements, so right now, we have an arrangement with PSJA North, to play the first game of the season.’”

The teams have a home-and-home series planned, which means the 5A PSJA schools likely will not get to play all of their sister schools in the same year for at least two years.