The University Interscholastic League, the governing body of Texas public school sports, released the biennial UIL Reclassification and Realignment for football, volleyball, and basketball for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years Thursday, Feb. 1.
With the release of the new UIL Reclassification and Realignment, Bullard athletic programs will face competition more similar to their size, with several changes being made around the three sports.
“This is an exciting time, almost like Christmas morning, for communities and school districts across the state of Texas,” said Scott Callaway, Bullard ISD athletic director and Panther football head coach. “It’s always fun to watch the UIL redraw the district lines because it can either start new rivalries or rekindle the flames of some pretty historic rivalries; the redistricting mixes up the competition, which makes it really exciting.”
For the Panther varsity football program, the team will spend less time on the road, most notably in district play, as the team’s new district brings gridiron action a little closer to home.
“UIL redistricting is something that happens every two years, so you know it’s coming,” said Callaway. “Communities and school districts get excited because there’s always going to be change. With us being thrown into new districts, it does create some anxiety because it changes both the district and non-district schedules. There’s a chance it can stay the same, but most of the time, it’s a reshuffling of the deck for a lot of programs.”
In the 2016-2018 alignment, released in February 2016, the Panther varsity football team was placed into Class 4-A Region II Division I’s District 9, also known as “The District of Doom,” with several perennial and well-established football programs in the East Texas area, including the Carthage Bulldogs, Center Roughriders, Henderson Lions, Kilgore Bulldogs, Palestine Wildcats, and Tyler Chapel Hill Bulldogs.
During the Panthers’ 2016 campaign in “The District of Doom,” the team finished the regular season with a record of 3-7, 0-6 in district play, and missed out on the playoffs under former head coach Shannon Wilson, who is now the head coach of the Bridgeport Bulls.
After Wilson’s departure, Callaway stepped in as head coach and athletic director with the intent of surprising many who thought the Panthers would go winless in district play and finish at the bottom of the pile.
However, with Callaway leading the program, the Panthers were able to prove many predictions wrong, as the team achieved a record of 3-7, 2-4 in district play, with big wins over district opponents Palestine and Chapel Hill. Despite their best efforts, the Panthers fell short of achieving their goal of being a playoff team.
For the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years, the UIL has placed school districts in a total of six conferences ranging from Class 1A, schools with less than 104.9 students, and Class 6A, schools with 2,190 or more students.
Bullard ISD will continue to be recognized as a Class 4A school, consisting of schools with between 505 and 1,149 students at the high school level. In October 2017, Bullard ISD turned in an enrollment count of 773 students attending BHS to the UIL for the conference assignment and district reclassification, placing them in Class 4A.
With the BHS enrollment number at 773 students, Bullard ISD fell from competing in football’s Class 4A Division 1 (93 schools ranging from 790 to 1,149 students in high school) to Class 4A Division 2 (90 schools ranging from 505 to 789 students in high school), making the Panther football program one of the largest in the division.
“The UIL always slides the numbers of high school enrollment every alignment,” said Callaway. “This year, it adjusted our numbers so it changed us from Division 1 to Division 2. Bullard is a growing community, but we just happened to land at that number. However, it does create a fair playing field for schools that are our size, where they won’t be facing a school with over 1,000 students in high school.”
In the redistricting of the UIL’s football programs last week, the Panther football team was placed in Class 4A’s Division 2 Region 2 District 7, along with the Brownsboro Bears, Canton Eagles, Rusk Eagles, and Wills Point Tigers.
Traveling will seemingly not be an issue for the Panther football team and fans of gridiron action, as the competition will be closer, with Rusk being the closest at 29 miles, followed by Brownsboro at 30 miles, Canton at 52 miles, and Wills Point at 69 miles.
For the past two years, Panther football has been on the road a lot, with the closest team having been Chapel Hill at 20 miles and the furthest trek being to Center at 84 miles.
“I believe the UIL did the right thing in redistricting our football program like it is,” said Callaway. “Knowing where we are, I knew we could go one of three directions – either north, west or south. It ended up with us going west, and it fits together when you look at the size of each school and mileage-wise.
According to Callaway, despite the changes in the district alignment, the goal of the Panther football program is to prowl their way back into the playoff picture.
“It’s always going to be our goal, no matter what district we’re in, to win and to get into the playoffs,” said Callaway. “Comparing the two districts, they called the last one “The District of Doom,’ but that doesn’t mean we have a free ticket to the playoffs; we’re still going to have to beat district opponents to get to the playoffs. With only four other teams in our district for the next two years, we’re actually going to have to win more to get into the playoffs because there are fewer chances in district play. We’re still going to have to win to get in.”
The UIL also redistricted the sports of volleyball and basketball, affecting the previously successful Lady Panther varsity volleyball and basketball programs, as well as the up-and-coming Bullard Panther varsity basketball program.
With the new lines drawn and official, the BHS volleyball and basketball teams were both placed into Class 4A’s Region 2 District 16, along with previous opponents such as the Chapel Hill Bulldogs, Gilmer Buckeyes, Kilgore Bulldogs, and Spring Hill Panthers, along with two new additions in the Cumberland Academy Knights and Henderson Lions.
The largest change in district play for the basketball and volleyball teams at Bullard was the loss of the Gladewater Bears, who will compete at the Class 3A level for the next two years.
As members of the Class 4A Region 2 District 15 for the past two seasons, the Bullard Lady Panther varsity volleyball team, led by head coach Cristy O’Bannon, finished the 2016 season with a record of 23-14, 8-2 in district play. The team was defeated by the Rusk Lady Eagles in the Bi-District round.
The team also finished the 2017 campaign with a record of 29-11 overall, 10-0 in district play, and were named District Champions, as well as Bi-District Champions after defeating the Henderson Lady Lions. The Lady Panthers were defeated by the Texarkana Pleasant Grove Lady Hawks in the Area round of the playoffs.
The Bullard Lady Panther varsity basketball team, coached by head coach Barry Gill, completed the 2016-2017 season with a record of 31-7 overall, 8-2 in district play, were recognized as the District 15-4A runners-up.
With the recognition of Bi-District Champions after defeating Carthage, Area Champions after defeating Texarkana Pleasant Gove, and Regional Quarterfinals Champions after defeating Chapel Hill, the Lady Panther varsity basketball program advanced to the Regional Tournament, where they were defeated by the eventual State Champion Argyle Eagles.
Currently in the 2017-2018 season, the Lady Panthers hold an overall record of 28-8, 7-2 in district play.
For the Panther varsity basketball program, coached by head coach Monta Jeffley, the team wrapped up the 2016-2017 season with an overall record of 6-23, 0-10 in district play, and missed the playoffs.
As of deadline date, the Panther varsity basketball team holds an overall record of 7-22, 1-6 in district play.
According to Callaway, the new districts for the volleyball and basketball programs will be used to each other, having faced each other a number of times.
“We’ve had a lot of success in our basketball and volleyball programs,” said Callaway. “We lost one team and added two more. There will be a lot of familiarity because the coaches and programs know each other for the most part. It will be a new year because you have athletes that graduate and come up from the junior high schools, but it’s nice to know we’re already familiar with these programs and hope to compete hard in every game.”
When asked about the state of Bullard ISD athletics, Callaway said he believes the direction of each athletic program under the department’s umbrella is on couse and moving in the right direction.
“We’re always moving forward and want to make this a great experience for our athletes and teams,” said Callaway. “I feel that the state of the athletic program is that we’re moving in the right direction with every program, with the kids and coaches we already have in place. There’s a bright future here with endless possibilities. We always want to have pride in our athletic department, school district, and community. Hopefully, we’ll be able to bring home some State Championships in the near future.”
In terms of other BHS sports, Callaway said that new districts will be released for other sports, such as softball, baseball, and soccer within the coming months.