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Monday, January 30, 2012
UIL realignment secrecy continues to amaze

By Randy Jennings

It is a given that not all Texas high schools are going to be happy with the University Interscholastic League's biennial reclassification and realignment announcement Thursday.

Pleasing 1,300-plus football- and basketball-playing high schools is something that not even a politician in an election year would promise.

But area coaches and athletic directors say they are never ceased to be amazed by one aspect of the process -- its secrecy.

"Keeping secrets is something not done very well any more," said Mansfield ISD athletic director Debbie Weems. "When most people know things, they like to talk."

Despite state-wide attention -- the information will be revealed once again on Fox Sports Southwest beginning at 9 a.m. -- the UIL has traditionally managed to keep things under wraps well enough for the project to earn the nickname of "Texas' biggest secret."

A half-dozen staffers for the Austin-based UIL toil away over enrollment figures and maps for three months, using pins and rubber bands to determine the district fate of high schools for the next two years.

"I don't even think those guys tell their wives," said 84-year-old Garland athletic director Homer Johnson, a veteran of 32 realignments. "It is a well-kept secret, and to tell you the truth it needs to be. Say, for example, we in Garland found out what the district was going to be before the announcement. It would give us an advantage in scheduling. The UIL tries to do the best for everybody."

Weems concurs.

"I understand why they want to keep it on the down low," she said. "There are always some that, if they found out ahead of time, might be unhappy and try to sabotage it. Like Jack Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men" said, 'Some people can't handle the truth.'"

Steve Lineweaver, who has coached Euless Trinity to three football state titles, said he remains "baffled" at the way the UIL keeps the information under wraps.

"In this day and age," said Lineweaver, "nobody can keep secrets."

UIL director of athletics Dr. Mark Cousins chuckles when the matter of secrecy is mentioned.

"Well, first of all, we haven't made the announcement yet, so we still have to see if it remains a secret," Cousins said last week. "But the element of security is part of our job description. The state superintendents have told us that they don't want any school to have an unfair advantage, and we take that responsibility very seriously."

Who wants to know?

The state's football head coaches, in particular those in urban areas where changes are most volatile, have the most to gain if they somehow learned the alignment configurations early. It would be a great aid in making nondistrict schedules.

By alignment day, most football coaches have made prearranged agreements for nondistrict games for the next two years. But those plans can go out the window quickly if an agreed-on opponent winds up in the same district.

"It happened to us a couple of times," Allen coach Tom Westerberg said. "The last time, I had my nondistrict games, then we were put in a district with the Lewisville schools and that took away one of those games. That's when we wound up with Longview."

Lineweaver recalls the situation in 2008 that led to the nondistrict series between perennial powerhouses Trinity and Allen.

"Coach Westerberg and I were both having trouble finding a game and finally we sort of looked at each other," Lineweaver said. "I don't think either one of us was all that thrilled about it."

Snapshot of the day

The gathering place for North Texas coaches and athletic directors is North Richland Hills' Birdville ISD Fine Arts and Athletic Complex. The meeting room at the stadium can seat 800 and it is usually packed a half-hour prior to the announcement. The final minutes are passed by munching on breakfast concessions, drinking coffee and visiting.

At the appointed hour as the murmur grows, coaches strain and squint at overhead projectors that reveal the UIL's handiwork. Copies of the new districts, fresh off the UIL website, are quickly made available.

"It's like game day," Lineweaver said. "For me, my eyes get wide, my pulse is beating faster. This is when you find out who you'll be playing the next two years."

Athletic directors Weems and Johnson say they look forward to realignment day, where friendships are renewed.

For their coaches, it is a little more tense. Those needing games for a specific date can make their needs public on message boards. It's not uncommon for deals to be made right there in the meeting room.

"There's a frantic, frenzied atmosphere in that room," Weems said. "The football coaches are looking around wondering, 'How many games am I going to win,' and hoping they don't wind up playing a nondistrict game against somebody like Southlake Carroll."

Weems said earlier in her career she tried to anticipate what district configurations realignment might bring. No longer.

"I've had people calling me wanting to know the enrollment numbers we turned in," Weems said, "trying to figure out where everybody will go. I don't know why. It always comes out the way no one expected. I don't guess any more. I don't want to be disappointed."

Johnson knows the feeling. In his introduction to the process in 1948, Johnson's Garland Owls had the smallest enrollment in their district. The largest was powerful Highland Park.

"I've never been through one that went exactly the way I thought it would go," Johnson said. "Sometimes they put us where we wanted to be. Sometimes not."

The degree of difficulty in finding last-minute nondistrict games goes up in relation to a team's number of wins in the previous year.

"It's an exciting day," said Westerberg, "but not fun when you're trying to find games."

Cousins, who will have a role in the telecast along with UIL executive director Dr. Charles Breithaupt and deputy director Dr. Jamey Harrison, said the day is exciting for the UIL, too. And a nervous one.

"There are always concerns that a school might have been left out," Cousins said. "We know that not everybody will be happy, either about their classification or their district. That's just part of the process and we know that going in."

Those that are disappointed on Thursday can take heart. It is no secret that hope of a more favorable outcome is only two years away.