Texas Panhandle non-football sports deal with status quo, changes in UIL realignment

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Randall volleyball coach Haleigh Burns, left, Canyon volleyball coach Sara Morath, middle and West Plains volleyball coach Kaitlyn Cornelius attended UIL realignment on Thursday at Happy State Bank Stadium. [James Abel/ Press Pass Sports]
The emphasis may be on football on UIL’s annual realignment day, but there are also challenges and expectations which coaches in the other sports have to take into consideration in scheduling contests for the next two school years.

Thursday morning, Amarillo-area metro schools found themselves in both familiar and unfamiliar territory when district realignments were announced. In Class 4A, District 4-4A retained the same eight schools as in the previous two years for all sports outside of football.

District 3-5A, meanwhile, kept the Amarillo ISD schools together with Plainview, while adding four Lubbock schools to the mix for a mammoth new district.

Either way, coaches and athletic directors had to be on their toes before official announcements were made concerning where they’d be competing for the next two years. It’s just as much a part of the job as preparing their teams for games and practices.

“Every couple of years you’ve got to figure out your schedule,” Canyon girls basketball coach Tate Lombard said. “If your district changes, what’s the number of teams you’ve got? For us it stayed the same. You figure out your preseason tournaments and see if your region changes.”

Canyon girls’ basketball coach Tate Lombard looks on from the sideline during the Lady Eagles game at Randall on Tuesday. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]
Canyon and fellow Canyon ISD schools Randall and West Plains will stay in 4-4A along with Borger, Dumas, Hereford, Pampa and Perryton through 2026. That means the district schedules will stay the same, perhaps aside from the running order of the past two years.

Lombard said his team’s schedule for next year isn’t set yet despite what’s essentially the same district setup as the last two years.

“As soon as the playoffs are over that’s the best time to get your schedule set as best you can,” said Lombard, whose team is in a familiar spot of having already clinched a playoff spot and holding the district lead. “Everybody’s kind of in the same world. It’s probably going to be similar. The calendar’s going to be weird this coming year. Thanksgiving’s a week later and volleyball overlaps an extra week, so there’s going to be different tweaks we’re going to have to add.”

The 4-4A teams aren’t going to have to do a whole lot of non-district scheduling for next year, at least in comparison to the last two years. West Plains girls’ basketball coach Kevin Richardson said he’s only looking for two or three non-district games late next fall.

“With an eight-team district you only have to find seven games so it’s not real difficult,” Richardson said. “We got a majority of our schedule done. We’ll get the rest of it done later today. You’ve just got to start filling in spaces where you can and get with who you can, and it will kind of come together over the course of the next month.”

Richardson said there should be some non-district similarities as coaches discuss with each other after games whether or not to play again next year, which means preparing the next year’s schedule could start more than a year in advance.

In only its second year of existence, West Plains has already clinched a playoff berth. All three Canyon ISD schools have done the same, as Randall is in second place with two games to go.

Still, Randall coach Brooke Walthall said she’s been trying to set up things for next season as well.

“It’s not when the season’s over, you have to start preparing right now for what you’re going to do in preseason, what you’re going to do in tournaments and how the holiday season falls,” Walthall said. “We have an eight-team district so it’s not a big preseason. I try not to worry about it. It will be pretty similar as long as it can work out for those other coaches that I call.”

Randall head coach Haleigh Burns has led the Randall Lady Raiders to the UIL Class 4A state tournament the past two seasons. [Joe Garcia III/ Press Pass Sports]
With an eight-team district, 4-4A is fairly similar in volleyball as far as the limited window for non-district contests. For a team like Randall, which won a state championship two years ago and reached the state championship match last season, getting ready for tough competition is the scheduling challenge for coach Haleigh Burns.

“We were already talking in January about getting people on the schedule,” Burns said. “You want to adjust tournaments and keep good people on your schedule. I had to kind of look at some different tournaments since we’re starting a little later in August, so I think the schedule will look a little different. We try to jump on it early to get the schedule we want.”

Volleyball and football face something of a sense of urgency, since their seasons start in six months, and basketball starts two months after that. That’s not so much the issue with baseball and softball, whose seasons for this school year haven’t even hit the scrimmage stage yet.

Canyon baseball coach John Doan is only thinking about 2024 right now, especially since he knows the pre-district schedule will be just as limited in 2025.

“In late summer going into two-a-days we start looking at a schedule,” Doan said. “When you start talking to baseball coaches over the summer, they haven’t started looking at a schedule yet. With the way our district came out today it will look very similar. You schedule those tournaments, and you have to gauge your team and where you’re at if you want to play a single game before those tournaments, other than that, preparing a schedule is pretty easy these days.”

It’s probably even easier for District 3-5A. Amarillo High, Caprock, Palo Duro and Tascosa will stay together along with Plainview, with Lubbock High, Lubbock Cooper, Lubbock Coronado and Lubbock Monterey added to the mix for a nine-team district.
That leaves little room for non-district games in every sport but football. It’s a change from the five-team district the Amarillo ISD schools occupied, when the regular season was played to eliminate one team from the four-team playoff picture.

“There’s not very many games to schedule when you’re playing 16 ball games in district,” AISD athletic director Brad Thiessen said. “That part of it makes it easier. Of course, the competition side of it makes it a lot harder to get those top four spots. I enjoy watching us compete with the Lubbock schools so it’s going to be fun to watch.”

While the travel won’t be as arduous, it’s not all that different from the days over a decade ago when Amarillo High and Tascosa were in the same district as not only Lubbock schools, but schools from Midland, Odessa and San Angelo.

“We’ve been in this position before,” Thiessen said. “It’s not anything new to us. I kind of thought we might stay the same way with the five.”

Texas Panhandle basketball and volleyball districts for 2024-26

District 3-5A

Amarillo High
Caprock
Palo Duro
Tascosa
Lubbock
Lubbock-Cooper
Lubbock Coronado
Lubbock Monterey
Plainview

District 4-4A

Borger
Canyon
Randall
West Plains
Dumas
Hereford
Pampa
Perryton

District 1-3A
Volleyball

River Road
Bushland
Dalhart
Dimmitt
Friona

District 2-3A
Volleyball

Childress
Idalou
Littlefield
Shallowater
Tulia

District 2-2A
Volleyball

Highland Park
Sanford-Fritch
West Texas High
Vega

District 1-1A
Volleyball

Fort Elliott
Darrouzett
Miami
Shamrock
Kelton
Wildorado

District 1-3A
Basketball

River Road
Bushland
Canadian
Childress
Dalhart
Tulia

District 2-3A
Basketball

Dimmitt
Friona
Idalou
Littlefield
Lubbock Roosevelt
Muleshoe
Shallowater
Slaton

District 1-2A
Basketball

Gruver
Sanford-Fritch
Spearman
West Texas High
Stratford
Sunray
Vega

District 2-2A
Basketball

Highland Park
Clarendon
Memphis
Panhandle
Quanah
Wellington
Wheeler

District 3-2A
Basketball

Bovina
Farwell
Hale Center
Lockney
Olton
Sudan

District 1-1A
Basketball

Booker
Fort Elliott
Darrouzett
Follett
Miami
Wheeler
Kelton

District 2-1A
Basketball

Claude
Groom
Hedley
Lefors
McLean
Shamrock
White Deer

District 3-1A
Basketball

Adrian
Boys Ranch
Channing
Hartley
Pringle-Morse
Texline
Wildorado

District 4-1A
Basketball

Springlake-Earth
Happy
Hart
Kress
Lazbuddie
Nazareth
Silverton

District 8-1A
Basketball

Patton Springs
Guthrie
Motley County
Paducah
Spur
Valley

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