Having been in the coaching business for more than two decades, Lehman High athletic coordinator Bruce Salmon knows “realignment” is a popular buzzword that biennially frequents athletic field houses.
Salmon understands expecting the unexpected when it comes to realignment is generally a good rule of thumb, too. In November, schools across the state turned in their “snapshot” enrollment numbers to the UIL, the governing body of high school athletics in Texas, that will be used to realign districts, a process many liken to a game of darts.
For now, Salmon and countless other coaches across Texas await their fate when the UIL completes its biennial realignment in early February.
But at the same time, Salmon also realizes getting players ready for whatever challenges come their way is perhaps more important than where Lehman’s dart lands on the board.
“Honestly, you’ve got to focus on continuing to grow and focus on the things you can control, giving kids experience and making sure they’re taking care of business in the weight room,” Salmon said.
For Lehman, realignment this go-round could mean a drop in classification.
In November, Lehman High turned in a student population of 2,225 students; UIL officials will unveil conference cutoff numbers in December. Historically, the UIL’s cutoff figure between 5A and 6A schools has risen by an average of roughly 30 students per realignment period over the past decade. With the current cutoff at 2,190 students, Lehman could be on the precipice of falling to 5A.
Since 2014, Lehman has competed at the 6A level, but has only sent two teams – boys soccer and softball, both in 2019 – to the postseason.
But Salmon said possibly going down to 5A could be a double-edged sword for the program.
On the one hand, the Lobos could square off against teams with similar numbers in terms of sport participation, an issue Lehman has dealt with in recent years. But on the other is possibly squaring off against top-tier programs in the state.
Dripping Springs, Manor, Seguin, Cedar Park, Boerne Champion and Kerrville Tivy, local area sports powerhouses, are all expected to stay in the 5A ranks.
“When you drop down, everyone assumes it’s easier and that’s not the case,” Salmon said.
Meanwhile at Hays High, Rebel athletic coordinator Les Goad said he was not surprised at the school’s snapshot enrollment of 2,435, which effectively guarantees the program two more years in 6A. Originally, school officials had envisioned a much smaller snapshot enrollment figure than was submitted.
Hays could also run into a numbers issue as time goes on, too. The Rebels could be one of the smaller 6A schools in the state, which could translate to a drop in the total number of students playing sports. Goad said when Hays had close to 3,000 students, which it did during the last realignment in 2018, the school had “more firepower” to choose from.
Goad said the expectation is for overall student enrollment at Hays to continue to fall over the next few years. It could also place Hays on the cusp of possibly falling down to 5A down the road.
“We just have to play the hand that’s dealt us. But we’ll be fighting with a shorter stick than we’ve had,” Goad said.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Dripping Springs High, which has now surpassed the 2,000-student mark for the first time in school history. While Tiger athletics will stay in the 5A ranks for another two seasons, a jump up to 6A might not be too far off in the future.
The vast amount of growth happening within Dripping Springs ISD’s boundaries could spur that move. The News-Dispatch reported a 12.7% jump in the Dripping Springs High student population from the 2017-18 to 2018-19 school years. Overall, DSISD officials reported a 4.65% increase in the overall student population across the district during that same timeframe.
Growing pains are also being felt at Johnson High, which will compete at the varsity level in all sports starting in 2020. February will be the first time Johnson will be included in the realignment process.
Steve Hoffmann, Johnson High athletic coordinator, said the school’s current estimated enrollment will place the Jaguars in the 5A ranks. Football-wise, the Jaguars are expected to compete at the 5A, Division I, or large school, classification. That’s based off the estimate turned in by Hays CISD officials, which called for Johnson to double its current enrollment of just over 1,000 students.
Hoffmann said he and other school officials had envisioned Johnson competing in the 5A, Division II ranks for football. Nonetheless, Hoffman said where they land will not affect how coaches prepare their athletes for the rigors of varsity athletics.
Ultimately, Johnson High plans to play “with the hand we’re dealt” and go with the flow, Hoffmann said.
“If that’s where we landed, that’s fine. We have to get ready for next year. Nothing is changing for us,” Hoffman said. “We have to get players ready for varsity competition.”