If the University Interscholastic League has dotted all its i‘s, crossed all its t‘s, and gotten the math right, the organization’s biennial announcement of Texas public high schools’ athletic reclassification and realignment will occur Thursday, February 1, at precisely at 9 a.m. This is the moment when schools across the state will learn what classification and what district they’ll be competing in, depending on changes in enrollment over the previous two years.

Experience tells deputy director Jamey Harrison, who oversees the endeavor, his cellphone will ring with the first complaint and/or request for a change at 9:07, taking that long only because of the time required to sift through the considerable volume of the statewide release.

Followed soon after by “some colorful emails from members of the public,” Harrison told Texas Monthly in a recent interview.

It will be the most exciting day in Texas high school athletics that involves no actual competition, no cheerleaders, no bands performing.

There’s no surprise that football, played by 1,258 schools under the UIL’s umbrella, will take center stage. Football coaches across the state will gather in large meeting rooms in convenient locations, learn their new district assignments, then scramble to fill their non-district schedules for the next two autumns in a version of speed-dating.

“It’s like a movie scene depicting the New York Stock Exchange,” said Harrison, who participated in such frenetic sessions back when he was coaching at Buna High, near Beaumont. “There’s paper flying and people raising their hands and hollering, ‘I need Week One!’ and ‘who wants to play Week Three?’ It’s pretty chaotic.”

Coaches like Che Hendrix of Boerne High will bring a couple of assistants to help in the process, which he did in recent years at the headquarters of the Texas High School Coaches Association in San Marcos. “I sent my offensive coordinator to one side of the room, I sent my defensive coordinator to the middle of the room, and I stayed in the other third,” Hendrix said. “There are boards with needs and numbers of guys looking for games. We put our name on each board on each side of the room with cellphones on it. From there, we just started calling and texting people.”

While schools won’t learn their district assignments until Thursday, the UIL notified its members of the cutoff numbers for the enrollment classifications in December (since 2014, there have been six classification levels). So, for almost two months, school officials have known where their projected enrollment figures will place them for the next two academic years.

As for the district assignments, Hendrix said, “it’s the best-kept secret in sports.”

“There are always surprises,” said longtime Highland Park coach Randy Allen, who will attend a gathering of coaches from the Dallas–Fort Worth area for Thursday’s announcement at the Birdville ISD athletic center near Fort Worth. “It’s never been what people have predicted.”

Many coaches arrive with some non-district games already penciled in, but such plans can go awry depending on the district assignments.

The announcement predictably results in a huge increase in traffic to the UIL’s website, leading to Harrison’s first stress test that morning. “We actually shut down our entire website and revert to a different, much more robust server,” he said. “There is no web traffic with UIL that’s not realignment related.”

At nine o’clock, Hendrix won’t rely on the website staying up. He’ll have the realignment results printed out as soon as the UIL posts them, to make sure he has a hard copy if the site crashes.

The realignment announcement is a literal state secret handled at the UIL’s Austin headquarters by as few people as possible. Leaking related information is a fireable offense.

“That’s the quickest way to lose your job at UIL,” said Harrison, who joined the office in 2011. “We have an alignment team of five total people, including me, who actually get to see the maps for most of the process. When we start getting late in the process, when we’re getting ready to finalize, we do bring more staff members in to check our work. But it’s still a relatively small number of people who ever even see this before we release it.”

Asked if any employees have been shown the door for that, Harrison said, “There’s some folklore that goes way back—twenty-five, thirty year—but in the last couple of decades, no, we’ve done a pretty good job of making sure everybody understands.”

Highland Park’s classification placement has often been a source of curiosity over the years, since the school didn’t move up between 1988 and 2014 and often dominated as one of its classification’s largest schools. “There have been years when we have been under by a small number, but it’s all legit,” said Allen, who has won four state championships since he began coaching at the school in 1999.

The Scots played in 6A during 2022 and ’23, ranking 242nd in enrollment among the classification’s 249 football-playing schools, and their 22–3 record suggests they didn’t suffer much from being one of the smallest 6A schools. But come February, Highland Park will drop down and once again be one of the biggest 5As for the next two years. “We happen to be a hundred under this time, so we’re not close,” Allen said.

One of the UIL’s rules is to keep all schools in the same ISD that are within the same classification in the same competitive district. The only exceptions are the rare school districts with more than ten schools in a classification, such as Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks and Collin County’s Frisco.

The UIL strives to limit each classification to about 250 schools, fitting into 32 districts. That can get tricky for high-enrollment groups like 6A and 5A, given the growth of many schools. For the upcoming realignment, 247 schools have been placed in 6A and 253 in 5A. The UIL also works to ensure that a classification’s largest schools be no more than twice the size of its smallest schools. In recent years, achieving both goals has proven challenging in shaping Class 4A. For this year’s redistricting, 4A headcounts will range from a high of 1,314 students to 545.

Some schools prefer to play in a classification for which they don’t technically qualify. Consider this year’s case of DeSoto High in southwest Dallas County. The Eagles have won the past two Class 6A Division II state football titles and even beat two-time 6A-I champion Duncanville during last year’s regular season. The high school’s enrollment has decreased significantly in recent years—with families choosing charter schools or private schools—from 3,398 for the 2018 realignment to this year’s 2,127, which would put DeSoto into 5A.

But DeSoto coach Claude Mathis said he and superintendent Usamah Rodgers will decide whether to play up depending on what’s best for all the school’s athletic programs, and they don’t plan to reveal their decision until release day. Mathis said the school might opt to play up to continue competing with 6A programs and in hopes that DeSoto’s enrollment could return to the 6A level in two years.

Certain schools play up knowing their enrollment will soon grow and promote them into a higher classification. One such case going into 2018 was New Home High, located just south of Lubbock. The Leopards played eleven-man ball that season for the first time in 35 years, even though their enrollment was below the 2A minimum. New Home finished 1–9 that season, but in the school’s second 2A campaign, the team qualified for the playoffs. Last year, with a growing enrollment that put them near the thirty-third percentile of the classification’s enrollments, the Leopards had an undefeated regular season.

Some high schools play up in 2A because it means avoiding six-man football, considered by some an undesirable version of the game. Occasionally, a school will know that its drop in enrollment numbers will be short lived, based on the number of students in lower grades. So they decide not to convert to six-man football, which would mean adapting to a smaller field and potentially changing coaching staffs—especially when the administrators can predict a return to eleven-man play just two or four years down the line.

Harrison said the UIL also remains flexible for high schools whose enrollment is projected to decline over the next two years. Such schools can play down in class by choosing an alternative method of calculating their student bodies. “We allow you to count [grades] eight through eleven or seven through ten,” he said. “Or you can do nine, ten, and double it.”

Schools that remain dissatisfied with their district assignment typically fall into two categories—those that are separated from longtime area rivals or those facing new travel demands that seem unreasonable (an issue that tends to affect West Texas districts most acutely). Harrison said only the latter can find a sympathetic ear in Austin.

Schools wishing to change districts have two options: The first is to receive majority votes for their relocation from both the district they want to leave and the district they want to join. Short of that, they can present their case to a UIL appeals committee. “It’s got to be based on geography,” Harrison said.

He’ll have his phone fully charged on Thursday morning.

“We take a lot of input from schools, and all of that input is considered,” Harrison said. “We work really hard to make it as good of a product as we possibly can.”