For the second consecutive realignment, the University Interscholastic League has shifted Brownwood High School in a direction it did not anticipate.
Monday marked the UIL's biennial reveal of new districts, and like two years ago when Brownwood was sent south, the move to District 3-4A Division I — which also features Big Spring, Snyder, Abilene Wylie and Stephenville — caught the athletic director off guard.
"I didn't think there was any way we would go west, especially when you look at the numbers out west," Brownwood Lions head football coach and athletic director Chuck Howard said Monday morning.
Bob Shipley, athletic director at Brownwood when the 2012 realignment was revealed, echoed similar sentiments when the school was placed in the current District 8-3A with Burnet, Gatesville, Lampasas, Liberty Hill and Llano.
"I haven't looked at every district to make sense of what they've done, but I didn't think there was a chance," Howard added. "Like always, the UIL is full of surprises. Two years ago we didn't think we were going to go south. But I'm excited about the new district and I'm looking forward to it. There's going to be a tough game week in and week out."
While the direction of the new district may have provided initial bewilderment, it should come as no shock Brownwood is again placed in one of the most competitive leagues in the state.
"Like every year, we always seem to wind up in a good district," Howard said. "Big Spring and Stephenville played a seven-point game last year in the playoffs and Big Spring has nine starters back on offense but lost several on defense. Wylie is Wylie, Stephenville is obviously very good and we played a very competitive game against Snyder last year. It's a tough district and we'll have to prepare well and be ready to play."
Four of the teams in the district reached the playoffs last year, and four will again this season as the UIL has opted to carry over the decision it made at the then-Class 3A level a year ago. Brownwood played three of the four teams in the district last season, falling to Abilene Wylie (38-16) and Stephenville (49-10), while defeating Snyder (46-43). Overall, the district posted a 37-25 record during the 2013 campaign.
In a rarity, Brownwood is not at the corner of a district, as was the case with the current 8-3A or previous incarnations of districts out west that included the Lions. Brownwood fans will experience drives of just over an hour to Wylie and Stephenville, with treks of two and half hours to Snyder and three hours to Big Spring. However, Big Spring, the farthest team to the west, and Stephenville, the eastern most team, are 206 miles apart, while Stephenville to Snyder, on the northern edge, is a 177-mile journey.
The larger area covered by District 3-4A Division I, and many more districts throughout the state, is due to the UIL's decision to split the new Class 4A into divisions before the playoffs begin, rather than after, following the formula the former 2A, 1A and six-man classifications used. With the change, only 16 districts consist in a division, and only four per region, making the path to a potential state championship shorter.
Howard stated the Lions' district schedule would likely be set Tuesday, but the non-district opponents were nailed down shortly after realignment was revealed. Prior to district competition, the Lions will face Gatesville, Graham, Liberty Hill, Alvarado, Burkburnett and Springtown, in that order. With only four district games, finding a sixth non-district foe became a challenge for Howard.
"I started at 9 a.m. trying to find a game and finished up at 10:45 a.m," Howard said. "Burkburnett was the last team I found. Springtown actually agreed to play us first, but they wanted Week 6 because it worked better with their schedule. We had a chance to schedule Lake View Week 6, but we're already going to lose junior high games with Burkburnett because of the distance and I didn't want to do that again with Lake View."
As for the remaining members of the current District 8-3A, Gatesville, Burnet and Lampasas moved in with China Spring, La Vega and Robinson in District 13-4A Division I; Liberty Hill is going to District 14-4A Division I with Bandera, Boerne, Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg and Taylor; and Llano, which dropped to 4A Division II, will reside in District 13 with Geronimo Navarro, Hondo, Lytle and Wimberley.
In another major change, non-football districts will be different for Brownwood, though a couple of the teams will remain the same. The Lions and Lady Lions will compete in District 6-4A in all other sports along with Abilene Wylie, Stephenville, Graham and Mineral Wells. Like football, four teams will advance to the playoffs in all sports.
"It's a great district and it should be really competitive from top to bottom, there's not a bad school in there," said Brownwood girls athletic coordinator and head track and field coach Don Hood. "I know track wise, between Mineral Wells, Stephenville, Graham and Wylie, it's going to be a tremendous district. Basketball and volleyball should be very competitive, too. The dynamics of the schools are very similar so no one should have a stacked deck. It'll come down to who works the hardest. It's going to be a lot of fun."