JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — Years of conversations, polls, and, finally, a ballot have resulted in a big school-small school split of Class 5A football for district play starting in the fall of 2018.
As one of the smaller 5A schools, this is good news for Marble Falls and its football team.
“It promotes equality and fair play,” said Mustangs athletic director and head football coach Matt Green about the University Interscholastic League’s decision. “I think it’s a very good move by the UIL.”
Class 5A superintendents across the state voted 147-77 to split the conference into two divisions based on enrollment numbers first and then proximity. Class 5A schools have enrollments from 1,100 to 2,147 students.
“Class 5A has a broad range of enrollment. The distance between large 5As and small 5As is pretty significant,” said Chris Allen, superintendent of Marble Falls Independent School District, who voted for the split “This creates a more balanced competitive field, and it gives more kids an opportunity to have success. I think there should be more equality in competition. This is a step in the right direction.”
Currently, the UIL determines districts based on proximity after deciding which schools are in each classification from six man through 6A. Once the top four teams in each district qualify for the playoffs, the two teams with the largest enrollments play in the Division I playoff bracket, while the two schools with the smallest enrollments compete in Division II.
Three years ago, the UIL adopted a system in which the schools in classes 1A through 4A were split into Division I and Division II categories for district competition, while 5A and 6A schools didn’t divide up until the playoffs.
The change to Class 5A, which will take effect when the next realignment is announced next year, ensures schools with similar enrollment sizes face each other in district play.
Marble Falls (1,258.5) is the second-smallest school in its current District 26-5A with Castroville Medina Valley (1,227), and Kerrville Tivy (1,461) rounding out the bottom three based on enrollment.
Of the three schools, only Tivy qualified for the football playoffs in 2016.
“Marble Falls plays at the bottom. It’s a disadvantage,” Green said. “It’s something you skirt around, but it’s a real factor. As coaches, it’s about being competitive and practical. People want fair opportunities for kids.”
The split divisions in football — it doesn’t apply to other sports — will have drawbacks. Burnet and Llano high schools, which are in Class 4A, have been competing under a divisional split for the past several seasons. Officials from those schools noted they must travel farther to play district games, which affects the budget.
Marble Falls officials have said extra travel expenses won’t be an issue for the district.
Green commended coaches and administrators in Class 5A for the winning votes, saying they put the student-athletes’ best interests first. He added that the two-to-one margin for the split shows how strongly they feel about the issue.
“If it had been a vote like 55 percent to 45 percent or 60 percent to 40 percent, you could see there wasn’t that big of a majority,” he said. “That, obviously, was not the case.”