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Realignment brings drastic change for Hays County athletic programs

Well before the sun broke over the horizon Monday, Johnson High athletic coordinator Steve Hoffman and his coaching staff were already hard at work building up a game plan.

Much like thousands of other coaches across the state, the Jaguar staff prepared for the completion of the UIL’s biennial realignment and reclassification for the 2020-21 season. What comes with it will be a host of changes for Hays CISD and Dripping Springs ISD athletic programs, which includes the absence of a Hays/Lehman and Hays/Johnson football game.

Amid the surprises and stress of realignment day, Hoffman felt the unveiling of new districts signaled the birth of Jaguar athletics.

“This is what we were waiting on. This is when it really starts,” Hoffman said. “We kicked it off today and we’re excited.”

Three Hays County schools in new 5A

For Johnson, Lehman and Dripping Springs, life in their new 5A districts will involve plenty of travel.

In football, the trio of Hays County schools will compete in the new 12-5A, Division I which includes a trio of San Antonio area programs. For all other sports, each team faces hour-plus long road trips to Kerrville, Boerne and north San Antonio in 26-5A.

Hoffman and Lehman High athletic coordinator Bruce Salmon both said the move to a San Antonio-area district wasn’t much of a surprise. Both coaches pointed to projections which showed the possibility of a move south.

However, Salmon had hoped to be realigned against schools closer to home in sports outside of football. Hoffman said the increased travel is an adjustment each school will have to make as the year progresses.

“It’s going to be different for some of our kids, but it’s something we’ll have to figure out,” Salmon said.

For Lehman High, the focus as it moves down to 5A continues to center on strengthening its numbers. A straw poll with coaches in 12-5A, Division I showed most programs had two freshman and two junior varsity football squads, said Salmon.

Last year, Lehman High had one freshman team and did not field a junior varsity. Through connecting with and helping to further build junior high feeder athletic teams, Salmon said he plans to build consistency which could lead to more participation in all sports.

Meanwhile, optimism is high at Johnson High as they ready for their first full year of varsity athletics. Hoffman said he expects his teams to compete well based on how individual athletes have “exceeded expectations” in 2019.

Hoffman also welcomes tough challenges across the board, including battles with powerhouses Alamo Heights, Kerrville Tivy and Boerne Champion.

But for Dripping Springs, realignment means a return to fierce district battles in nearly every sport. Four years ago, Dripping Springs was placed in a district with Tivy, Heights and Champion.

It’s a complete 180-degree turn from the dominant success Tiger athletics have enjoyed in their current districts. Over the past two years, Dripping Springs athletic teams compiled a 137-13-2 record against district foes and tallied eight team district titles.

But change isn’t a new phenomenon for Tiger athletic coordinator Galen Zimmerman and Dripping Springs athletics. Having gone through four realignments during his time in Dripping Springs, Zimmerman said Tiger athletics have been in four different districts with different opponents each time. Familiarity with programs such as Alamo Heights and Boerne Champion help to ease the adjustment.
“I don’t think there’s teams we’re unfamiliar with and places we haven’t been before,” ZImmerman said. “I feel really good and I think there’s great people in those district and I look forward to working with their coaches.”

New district, same foes for Hays

While change was aplenty for many Hays County athletic programs, Hays High maintained the status quo as it stays in the 6A ranks. The new look 26-6A will feature many of Hays’ current district opponents including powerhouses Lake Travis, Westlake and Bowie.

New to the mix will be San Marcos, which realigns out of the San Antonio-area district they had been in for the past four seasons. Hays High athletic coordinator Les Goad said he welcomed the chance to rekindle a district rivalry with San Marcos, even if it meant adjusting the football team’s non-district schedule.

Goad envisioned staying in a similar district this realignment, but also understands the level of competition will continue to rise. It becomes a much more difficult challenge for Hays, which is one of the smaller 6A schools in the state and will battle against teams with more depth across the board. .

“Our philosophy has been, ‘Do the best with what you’ve got’ and that’s what we have right now,” Goad said.

Rivalry going on hiatus

But the prospect of all three Hays CISD schools squaring off against one another on the gridiron came to a close as realignment day ended.

When the dust settled, only Johnson and Lehman will tangle during the course of the season. Neither Johnson nor Lehman scheduled Hays as a non-district opponent in football for the next two seasons, marking the first time in 14 years Hays and Lehman will not play.

Hoffman cited the need to play “people more our size” during the team’s first two seasons. Johnson, which will have sophomores and juniors on varsity in the fall, will play Crockett, Lockhart and Bastrop in non-district play in football. However, Hoffman felt a Hays/Johnson game will happen in time.

“As we grow into it, it’s going to be a better deal for us and Hays, too,” Hoffman said.

For Salmon, the task of rebuilding the Lobo athletic program guided their non-district schedule choices. Lehman will play Marble Falls, McCallum and Austin High. He hopes it ultimately allows for Lehman to progress and get back to a point where a future game against Hays is competitive.

“My job at Lehman is to where we can grow and progress,” Salmon said. “We have to take care of Lehman, too.”

But Goad said he advocated for Hays to take on Johnson and Lehman as non-district foes. By doing so, Goad felt it would be a boon for the community and allow for players to play in front of potentially full stadiums.

Hays football’s non-district schedule instead will include San Antonio Churchill, Dripping Springs and Cedar Ridge.

“Ultimately, we have to make the best decisions we can, but I would certainly like to have seen those games,” Goad said.

How area teams fared following realignment 

On Monday, the UIL completed its biennial realignment and reclassification process for the 2020-22 seasons. This year’s realignment included the addition of Johnson High, which will compete at the varsity level in all sports next fall, as well as Lehman High’s drop from 6A to the 5A ranks. The lists below are the new realigned districts.
District 26-6A
San Marcos
Lake Travis
Del Valle
District 12-5A, Division I
Dripping Springs
New Braunfels Canyon
San Antonio McCollum
San Antonio Harlandale
San Antonio Veterans Memorial
* Football only
District 26-5A
Dripping Springs
New Braunfels Canyon
Kerrville Tivy
Boerne Champion
San Antonio Veterans Memorial
Alamo Heights
*All other sports
District 14-4A, Division II
Austin Achieve
Eastside Memorial
Geronimo Navarro
Manor New Tech
San Antonio Young Men’s Leadership
*Football only
District 28-4A
Canyon Lake
*Volleyball only
District 28-4A
Canyon Lake
Comal Davenport
*All other sports

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