Every two years, the University Interscholastic League sits down and recalibrates its district, conference, and regional alignments by school enrollment. And every two years, some kind of weirdness emerges. This year, the weirdness found Highland Park.
For the uninitiated, the UIL is responsible for overseeing competitions in everything from one-act play portrayals to football. The latter was the focus this week—the league broke down high schools by enrollment in six classifications, with 6A (schools with 2,275 students or more) being the largest and 1A (104 and below) the smallest.
Highland Park will see the biggest change in its travel schedule. For the last two years, it has competed pretty close to home in 6A—prior to realignment, its opponents were Jesuit, Irving, Irving MacArthur, Irving Nimitz, Richardson, Richardson Berkner, Richardson Lake Highlands, and Richardson Pearce.
But enrollment dipped enough that Highland Park now returns to 5A ball. (Richardson’s J. J. Pearce replaces Highland Park in its old 6A district.) And it should expect some commutes as part of a new district chock full of schools the UIL didn’t quite know what to do with. Behold District 7, which stretches roughly 200 miles across and includes Lufkin, Joshua, Midlothian, Red Oak, Burleson Centennial, and Tyler.
Todd Jorgenson, who covers the Scots for our sister publication, People Newspapers, points out that the team has never been in the 6A classification for consecutive alignment cycles. When I reached out to him for his take, he also noted that the last time Highland Park was a 5A team, they were grouped with Tyler, Sherman, and Longview. (You can read his assessment here.) But there’s only so much preparing for a travel schedule like this.
“This is a bit extreme,” he says. “In terms of travel, a few schools draw the short straw in every realignment like this.”
That jibes with what head coach Randy Allen told the Dallas Morning News, too.
“The predictions were that we would be in there with North Mesquite, West Mesquite, Midlothian, Red Oak, and then DeSoto was a possibility, and they opted up,” Allen said. “But nobody ever said anything about Cleburne or Burleson or Joshua when we were looking at predictions.”
Nearly every school in this group will travel at least 90 minutes one way. Some will travel upwards of three-and-a-half hours. That’s not great for kids or parents. In that regard, Highland Park has it better than its new divisionmates: the district doesn’t have regular school buses, so the Scots travel by charter bus.
So until the next bout of realignment, don’t be surprised to see Highland Park pack its non-district schedule with schools much closer to home in an effort to minimize additional travel. The Scots open next season with Rockwall-Heath, Lovejoy (now helmed by former Southlake-Carroll coach Todd Dodge), and Jesuit in the first three weeks of the season.
Other things to note about this realignment:
South Oak Cliff could face a familiar foe much earlier this year. In a surprise decision, the UIL moved Port Neches-Groves to 5A Region II. The Golden Bears have faced PNG at the state championships two years in a row, winning in 2022 and coming up short last year. The two squads could face off in the regional final.
The realignment also means more playoff travel, which Coach Jason Todd hinted was part of the reason for his daunting preseason schedule that has his squad facing Galena Park North Shore, 6A-Div. I state champion Duncanville, and Longview right out of the gate.
“Well looks like our playoff road will have a lot of traveling miles,” Todd said on social media. “Hint hint the reason our preseason games on the road. We play chess in the inner city too.”
The Golden Bears are also in one of two all-Dallas ISD districts, grouped with Adamson, Hillcrest, Thomas Jefferson, Samuell, Seagoville, Spruce, and Woodrow.
DeSoto stays put. The two-time Class 6A-Div. II state champions decided to remain in 6A play, even though their enrollment of 2,127 would have set them up for 5A dominance. The Eagles’ placement in 11-6A will have them facing Cedar Hill, Dallas Skyline, Duncanville, Lancaster, Mesquite, Mesquite Horn, and Waxahachie.
It also means that 11-6A is now inarguably the state’s toughest district, with two-time 6A-Div. I state champ Lancaster and Cedar Hill, which has three state championships under its belt.
Prosper Walnut Grove gets a home. The school opened last year. (You might have read about the campus a little.) Because alignments were already set, the team cobbled together a season without an actual district, ending the year 3-7 against teams as far out as Lubbock, San Antonio, and even Arkansas. It’s now in District 4-5A Div. II, which isn’t exactly an easy one—they’ll face Anna, Denison, Frisco Emerson, Frisco Independence, Frisco Liberty, Frisco Memorial, Lovejoy, and Melissa.
Three of the largest schools in the state are in North Texas. And they’re in the same district—6-6A. Allen has an enrollment of 6,947 (it’s actually the largest in the state), Plano East clocks in at 5,346, and Plano West has almost 5,338. The rest of 6-6A includes McKinney, McKinney Boyd, Plano, Princeton, Prosper, and Prosper Rock Hill.
The other all-Dallas ISD district is in 4A. The 8-4A includes Carter, Conrad, Hutchins, Kimball, Lincoln, Pinkston, Roosevelt, and North Dallas.
You can see the newly aligned districts here. Now that they’ve been announced, coaches will begin creating their football schedules for next year, and will likely wrap up that chore in the next few days.