Thursday, February 22, 2018

Realignment brings changes, excitement to ET landscape

George Whitley

By George Whitley
Feb. 1, 2018 at 1:47 p.m.
Updated Feb. 1, 2018 at 2 p.m.

Spring Hill head coach Kelly Mercer makes a phone call after the 2018-20 UIL realignment was released Thursday at Region 7 in Kilgore.

KILGORE — A wise old coach once said a lot of games are won and lost on UIL realignment day. The much-anticipated biennial event attracted hundreds of coaches from around the East Texas area Thursday morning to the Region VII Education Service Center in Kilgore.

There always seems to be a surprise or two when the district assignment packets are finally handed out. Some coaches are able to breathe a sigh of relief, while still others are left scrambling in an effort to fill out their schedules.

Pine Tree's Kerry Lane wasn't caught off guard when he perused his new neighborhood. Spring Hill's Kelly Mercer, however, was busy working his cellphone in hopes of locking down an open date on his schedule.

"It's about what we thought it would be," Lane said in reference to the eight-team District 9-5A Divison II, which, in addition to Pine Tree, houses Hallsville, Jacksonville, Lindale, Marshall, Mount Pleasant, Nacogdoches and Whitehouse.

RELATED: Check out the new districts with the release of the 2018-2020 UIL realignment

"Looks like it's going to be a pretty competitive district. There's not going to be anyone that's that much better than anyone else. It should be pretty even and a lot of fun."

Pine Tree's three-game non-district slate is officially set with the opener against Bullard, followed by Pittsburg and a long-time combatant in Kilgore to close. The Pirates have also penciled in their controlled scrimmage against Tyler Lee.

Lane was unflinching by the increased difficulty of earning a playoff berth in a field of eight rather than in a smaller six-team district.

"That's the way it's supposed to be," Lane said emphatically. "You're not supposed to get in winning just three games. You need to have to beat some people."

Mercer and Spring Hill welcome to the revamped 6-4A Division II neighborhood Liberty-Eylau to saddle up next to familiar faces Gilmer, Pittsburg and defending Class 4A DII state champion Pleasant Grove.

"When we saw Liberty-Eylau was going to drop down to DII, we figured it'd work out just about the way it did. L-E's addition definitely brings with it a new set of talented athletes. But, between Atlanta and Gladewater, which we lost, they brought athletes too," said Mercer.

"It's a challenge of course. All the teams in our district are going to be well coached and have great athletes. But the thing about being in a five-team district, if we can get to that first round things can change. That's the way we're looking at it."

Mercer, who was still in search of a week six opponent, did have Gladewater to open, followed by Bullard, cross-town rival White Oak, Rusk and Canton.

Although it was pretty much expected, the biggest shakeup might have been in Class 3A, where Gladewater and Tatum dropped from 4A to Class 3A Division I, while West Rusk made the move up from DII to DI. All three schools now reside in District 8-3A DI with Sabine, Mineola, White Oak and Winnsboro.

"We knew our number and felt like it would be a seven-team district. It could have broke east, west or north, south. We picked up Mineola and Winnsboro, which was just one the of the possibilities," offered Gladewater's John Berry.

"Looking at things historically, this is the way the district was 20 years ago. This is an exciting time of year for all of us. It'll be super challenging. You still got to put 11 out there. In this part of the world at our level, you got absolutely some of the best football in Texas being played."

West Rusk's John Frazier, who expects to return a pretty solid squad in the fall, knows all the realignment hubbub is simply out of his hands.

"For the most part it went as anticipated. We don't control who we play. We've played pretty much in the same district for the last 11 years. To be able to play in a new district with new coaches is pretty exciting," said Frazier.

Longtime Ore City coach Tracy Blankenship went into Thursday's big moving day with few concerns. That changed pretty quick when his two worst nightmares came to fruition.

"It was a lot more harried than I expected. I was very relaxed and thought everything was set. I didn't foresee anything changing. But the two things I didn't want happen happened," explained Blankenship. "We ended up in an eight-team district that's very, very, very competitive. We had hoped for a six. The other thing that happened was a team dropped us today. We had to scramble, but we filled it. We're going to be okay."

The Rebels will be in District 11-3A Division II along with Daingerfield, DeKalb, New Diana, Elysian Fields, Paul Pewitt, Queen City and Waskom.

There was hardly a hiccup among old district of doom members. The new address is 10-4A Division I, with two-time defending state champion Carthage, Henderson, Kilgore, Chapel Hill, Palestine and tradition-rich newcomer Van.

District 10-3A DII houses Harmony, Arp, Alba-Golden, Frankston, Grand Saline, Quitman, Troup and Winona. In 10-2A DI, there's Big Sandy, Union Grove, Alto, Cushing, Hawkins and Carlisle, while 11-2A DI will have Beckville, Garrison, Harleton, Linden-Kildare, Joaquin, Tenaha and Timpson.

Overton, Clarksville, Detroit, Maud, Mount Enterprise and James Bowie comprise District 10-2A DII. In 6-man DI, Union Hill and Leverett's Chapel are joined by Fruitvale and High Island in 12A.

(Follow George Whitley on Twitter @GPigskinprof)



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