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UIL realignment: Some area schools will travel nearly 200 miles for district games

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — Randy Allen and his staff sat around a table at Birdville Athletics Complex taking notes.
The longtime Highland Park football coach found out late last year that the six-time champion would move down from 6A — Texas’ top high school athletics classification — to 5A Division I, where the school located just northwest of SMU’s campus last won a state title.
But it wasn’t until Thursday morning that Allen and dozens of other coaches overflowing a conference room at Birdville Athletics Complex learned in real time in which districts their teams will compete for the next two seasons.
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Every two years, the University Interscholastic League collects enrollment numbers from member high schools to determine their classifications. Some schools move up, while others stay the same or move down. To account for that movement, the UIL realigns athletics districts.
As a result, teams typically face a new slate of opponents each realignment cycle. For the 2024-26 school years, Highland Park will compete in District 7-5AI with Burleson Centennial, Cleburne, Joshua, Lufkin, Midlothian, Red Oak and Tyler. Midlothian and Red Oak also competed in 5A Division I last realignment cycle.
“It’s a big surprise,” Allen said. “But it’s a good district and we’re excited to be in 5A, and we’re excited about the new teams that we’ll be playing.”
Processing the new information, Allen jotted down phone numbers and names of opposing coaches once his district was revealed. Some of his new competition was in the conference room with him.
But several of Allen’s competing coaches who represent schools from other regions of Texas likely were not. Red Oak, Midlothian and Highland Park will at some point have to travel significant distances outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area for district matchups.
The longest road trips will be to Tyler and Lufkin, both located in East Texas. It will take about two hours for the Dallas-area schools to make the 100-mile trip to Tyler.
Lufkin is closer to the Louisiana border than it is to its district mates. Highland Park is 172 miles away, Midlothian is 195 miles out and Red Oak is a 193-mile trek. That drive will take each school about three hours.
“The travel to Lufkin was the biggest surprise,” Allen said. “Lufkin is a little bit closer to Houston than to Dallas, so that’s a big surprise.”
In 10-6A teams such as Rockwall and Forney will also make trips to East Texas when it’s time to play Tyler Legacy and Longview.
The goal is to build districts according to their teams’ geography, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
“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.”
While Cleburne, Burleson and Joshua aren’t as far away as Tyler or Lufkin, they are still a solid hour drive with no traffic. Cleburne is 54 miles southwest of Highland Park. Joshua is between Cleburne and Burleson, which is 51 miles from Highland Park. The westernmost school in 7-5AI is Joshua, and the easternmost school is Lufkin. On the fastest route, 222 miles separate the two communities.
Most area football teams will not have to travel terribly far for district games. In fact, for this realignment cycle, many area programs are in districts that make more sense geographically than they did previously.
For example, District 5-6A is composed of all Denton County schools with the exception of Coppell, which isn’t too far away from Lewisville, Flower Mound, Little Elm, Denton Guyer and Denton Braswell.
In District 4-5AII — home to Anna, Melissa and Frisco Emerson — all the member schools are based in Collin County with the exception of Denison.
Emerson used to play with schools based in Denton County. Several of Melissa’s former district mates were outside of Collin County, and the same applied to Anna.
Highland Park won’t enjoy the convenience of neighboring district mates, but that’s only one thing Allen considered on Thursday.
“We have not played any of these teams when we’ve been in 5A. So all of it will be pretty new,” Allen said. ” We were in a district with Tyler two, three years ago. And we did play Red Oak in the Tom Landry Classic, I don’t know, 15 or 20 years ago.”
Now that Allen knows whom Highland Park will face, he’ll probably start gathering intel soon. He’s also thought about the 5AI teams in Region II.
“You’ve got the Frisco schools — they’re always tough,” Allen said. “And it looks like our District 7, we play District 8 [in the first round of playoffs], so that goes down toward Austin. That’s new. It’s taking me a little while to wrap my mind around it because I don’t know those teams very well.”
Red Oak coach Melvin Robinson also sees question marks surrounding his new district mates.
“Midlothian is the only one there [we’ve shared a district with]” Robinson said. “We played Centennial in the playoffs. Rest of it is new to me.”
While traveling long distances isn’t the most convenient, Midlothian coach Doug Wendel is looking forward to facing his new opponents and relishing in the road trips.
“I’ve always loved East Texas. Very excited about the opportunity to play at Rose Stadium in Tyler,” Wendel said. “Lufkin has a long tradition of good football. Highland Park has a beautiful stadium. Should be fun environments to play in.”
Find more high school sports coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.
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