NORTH RICHLAND HILLS - In a massive, dimly lit room at the Birdville Fine Arts/Athletic Complex, three projections onto a wall sent hundreds of football coaches into a chaotic swarm, as the UIL announced district realignment and reclassification on Thursday.
Ryan head coach Joey Florence figured he would be moving up from Class 4A to Class 5A, the biggest classification in the state. But what Florence didn't foresee was the number of teams in Ryan's district.
The Raiders were placed in District 5-5A, joining Coppell, Lewisville, Flower Mound, Hebron and Flower Mound Marcus. The district is one of only four districts in Class 5A with six teams, the only six-team district in Region I.
The unexpected twist sent a flustered Florence to fill the nondistrict portion of his schedule. While most other coaches had left, Florence was one of the few coaches who had yet to nail down his tentative schedule.
"Well it's crazy," Florence said. "I wasn't anticipating a six-team district. We had to scramble to get five games, and that's been a challenge. It's been a little more unusual than years past."
The Raiders move up to Class 5A for only the second time during Florence's 12-year tenure at Ryan. The UIL determines classification based on enrollment numbers for each high school. Schools in Class 5A turned in an enrollment number of at least 2,090 students.
Ryan has tentatively scheduled Corsicana, Wichita Falls Rider, Wylie East, McKinney and Monterrey Tech of Mexico City to fill its nondistrict schedule.
That's how hectic things were on Thursday. Florence desperately needed spots filled, so he negotiated a meeting with the American-style football team from Mexico.
"We were just trying to get people to play, other than schools that are three or four times the size of us," Florence said. "There are some schools that aren't scared of us, but they have five or six thousand kids, so we didn't want to play them."
During his time at Ryan, Florence has enjoyed enormous amounts of success. The Raiders reached five Class 4A state championship games, winning the title in 2001 and 2002.
While Ryan moves up in classification, Guyer drops from 5A to Class 4A. Coppell head coach Joe McBride said the teams may be different, but both schools are equally dangerous.
"Obviously Ryan's built a tradition of winning ever since Joey Florence has been there, so it's pretty much an even swap, losing Guyer and bringing in Ryan," McBride said. "They're both about equal across the board. You change the teams by name, but you get the same. It's a really good football team still."
Denton ISD athletic director Ken Purcell, sporting a black cowboy hat in the midst of the fray, said he would like to have all three teams in the same district and same classification, but other obstacles prevent that from happening.
When it comes to determining whether Guyer or Ryan remains in 5A, Purcell said the differences can be marginal.
"The difficulty is that both of them are right on the [enrollment number] line," Purcell said. "They're either just above or below the line. Obviously in the last two years with economic factors and people moving, it doesn't take much to tip the scale one way or the other."
The teams may be bigger and more daunting, but Florence said his expectations for his team will remain unchanged.
"We're not unrealistic," Florence said. "We know it's a tougher road in 5A, but at the same time, we intend to get after it. We've been there before.
"You'll either perish or you'll get better, and I think we'll get better."
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .