By Betsy Dolan
As expected, the University Interscholastic League moved three Fort Bend ISD high schools with the lowest enrollments, Willowridge, Marshall, and Ridge Point from 5A to 4A on February 2 as part of a statewide realignment. The remaining eight district schools will become a single 5A district. The UIL realigns every two years to keep schools with similar enrollments playing against one another in an effort to balance competition.
Starting next year, Willowridge, Marshall, and Ridge Point will play in District 22 which includes three Spring Branch ISD schools: Northbrook, Spring Woods, and Stratford as well as Tomball and Tomball Memorial. There was hope that the UIL would consider moving the three Fort Bend ISD schools into the same district as Lamar Consolidated in order to cut down on travel costs and late nights. The news that they would be traveling north to play, says John Jakubik whose son, J.T. plays baseball and football at Ridge Point, caught him by surprise.
“I thought they would merge us with LCISD. I was hoping for that. When I saw that they had added the two Tomball schools my thought was, ‘Whoa, this is going to be an expensive travel budget than what we have had in the past.’ But now the FBISD schools will have a chance to win championships in every sport they play which will be good because they haven’t had that before.”
Despite having significantly smaller enrollments than the other 5A schools in the district, Marshall and Willowridge have had some success making it to the playoffs but it hasn’t been consistent. Coaches at the two schools say that could change with the move to 4A.
“I feel good about moving to 4A,” says James Williams, Marshall football coach. “We have about 1,350 students at Marshall and we are well below the cutoff point for 5A. I think matching up against schools with similar numbers will be good. In no way do I believe it will be easier. There are as many great 4A teams as there are 5A teams but at least our numbers will match up.”
“It’s a breath of fresh air for us,” says John Howie, Willowridge boys basketball coach. “We’ve been fighting to be competitive because of our low enrollment and this gives us a shot to get back to our tradition of making it to the playoffs.”
Still, some coaches say the move to 4A is bittersweet because of the rivalries that have developed over the years between the Fort Bend ISD schools.
“I’m going to miss some of the competition”, says Gary Nichols, Marshall boys basketball coach. “We had some good rivalries going that we won’t have any more. We’ll get to play them (FBISD schools) in pre-district games so maybe we can keep some of that alive.”
Fort Bend ISD had been allowed to continue as a 10-school district for the last few years. With Ridge Point set to play varsity football next year, the UIL would not allow an 11-team district to exist.