McAllen schools eye UIL realignment

McALLEN — Schools across the Rio Grande Valley are bracing themselves for Monday’s UIL realignment, the outcome of which could significantly affect how Valley students perform in sports and extracurricular events.

PSJA ISD Athletic Director Orlando Garcia, left, and McAllen ISD Athletic Director Paula Gonzalez have a discussion while looking over a UIL District Assignments and Reclassification Information packet as coaches and athletic directors attend a UIL Realignment meeting at the Region One Education Service Center Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, in Edinburg.

Perhaps the district facing the largest change is McAllen ISD, which expects all three of its high schools to drop from 6A to 5A.

According to McAllen ISD Athletic Director Paula Gonzalez, McAllen schools have been on the path to dropping to 5A for a few years due to decreasing enrollment. Gonzalez says that Rowe High School technically qualified to make the switch at the last realignment.

“They did have 5A numbers, but we chose to stay up, which was good because the three teams stayed together,” she said. “This year we were pretty sure that Memorial and Rowe had the 5A numbers, but we weren’t really sure about McHi.”

Ultimately, the numbers worked in the district’s favor, enabling all three schools to stay together.

“That was one of the big things that we were hoping for, and it did work out,” Gonzalez said.

An advantage of competing at the 5A level is that the district’s athletes will be playing against schools with similar enrollment numbers, Gonzalez said.

“We’re hoping to accept the challenge and do well,” she said. “The main benefit of competing at 5A is that we now compete against schools that have similar numbers to what we do. We’re definitely hoping to do well and we hope that going deeper into the postseason is a result of that.”

Another potential upside is the outside chance that the realignment will allow McAllen to reignite some old rivalries.

“I don’t think it’s a real big chance that we could play against the Sharys, like in volleyball and basketball, but we could,” Gonzalez said. “We had a lot of great rivalries and competition events with Sharyland, so that would be great too.”

A drawback to the change will likely be travel requirements, Gonzalez said.

“The big question for the Valley is will you have to play Laredo or will you have to play Corpus,” Gonzalez said.

In McAllen’s case, it appears the answer to that question will be Laredo.

“In football, it looks right now that we could be competing against two of the Laredo schools,” Gonzalez said. “We already play Laredo; we haven’t competed a lot, obviously, against the 5A, but we’ve played against the 6A. I think the big difference will be that we play against the Laredo schools on a regular basis, which would mean that we won’t only travel postseason, but also during the season, so travel will be a big deal.”

Gonzalez says that more miles equates to more money and more logistical headaches.

“If it affects travel, it will definitely affect funding,” she said. “Another thing that it could affect is kids missing school, taking them out early, our coaches, in regards to substitutes and having someone cover their classes.”

Ultimately, however, Gonzalez says she believes travel is something McAllen’s teams will adjust to.

“I think it’ll have an impact in regards to the first years, because it’s not something that we do, but I think as we continue to play against Laredo I think we’ll get more accustomed to it,” she said.

Gonzalez says she’s excited to see how things shake out Monday.

“You never know,” she said. “It’ll be interesting.”

McAllen isn’t the only school expecting to drop due to decreased enrollment: Weslaco East and Progreso are also expecting to go down a division.

Gonzalez says decreased enrollment is an issue districts across the state are tackling.

I started teaching in the late 70s, early 80s, and I remember enrollment would go up like 500 a year. You never worried about enrollment, enrollment just kept growing and growing,” she said. “There’s a lot more choices for parents, I mean, before it was public or private school, now they have choices.”

Gonzalez says that the district has made an effort to keep participation in athletics and extracurricular activities up even as total enrollment falls.

“With lower numbers in your schools you have a lower number that participate,” she said.

To combat that, Gonzalez says. “The key thing that we want is for our athletes to continue to want to participate in athletics, even though we’re going down in enrollment, we want to sustain the number of participants that we have in our programs, which is a big thing,”

She says success on the field can play a big part in that.

“When you’re successful, everyone wants to be part of a successful team, so success in regards to being competitive is something that sells your program,” she said.

Gonzalez also said that working with students at a younger age can also encourage them to participate, something she says her coaches are particularly good at.

“You want to have that vertical alignment where you already start establishing those relationships at the middle schools,” she said.