By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
It just made sense.
Not just financial cents, plain, ol’ common sense.
For the next two years, five teams from the new District 8-5A won’t have to travel far to play non-district games with home-and-home series scheduled against Round Rock and Round Rock Stony Point.
“I’ll be honest with you, we never attempted to look outside the 50-mile radius looking for games,” Harker Heights head coach Mike Mullins said, calling the arrangement “an easy fit.”
“When you have five Round Rocks, four Killeens, and five Cedar Parks, with all of them together, you can dictate a pretty good non-district schedule.”
Like many coaches around the state, Mullins had a tentative schedule planned in preparation for the UIL’s bi-annual realignment in February. And when it was announced, as expected, that Killeen and Waco Midway moved up to 5A to create a true Central Texas district, it made scheduling of non-district games all too easy for the rest of the 8-5A teams.
“When you look geographically now, with our district, once you get past Midway to the north and (Copperas) Cove to the west, it’s a long way before you get to another 5A school,” said Belton head coach Rodney Southern. “Unless you go south (to Round Rock).”
Drive & distance
In 2010, the Killeen Independent School District instituted a new travel policy that requires all teams to stay within a 200-mile range of Killeen or within 2 1/2 hours one-way for non-district games and tournaments.
But while finances always play a factor into travel plans — especially after the Texas Legislature cut $4 billion in state education funds last year — the limitations on athletic budget spending didn’t play much of a factor.
“There is some (concerns with the travel budget) but that wasn’t a full determinant with us setting the games up,” said Dragons coach Jeff Cheatham.
With its three non-district games, the Knights (0-2) opened the season with back-to-back matchups with both the Tigers and Dragons and will host to Cedar Park tonight. In all, Heights’ varsity will travel just 150 miles round trip this season, with two home games at Leo Buckley Stadium. Next year, with the series reversed, the distance still isn’t outlandish with trips to Round Rock and Cedar Park only adding an extra 100 miles to the total.
“You’re playing in nice stadiums, whether it’s at The Palace (the Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex), or at Dragon or at Buckley,” Mullins said. “And it’s not a long drive for the fans, it’s good for the communities because people come in and eat and make a little money for them. I think that helps everybody.”
Belton is the only other 8-5A team playing both teams having traveled to Stony Point last week and hosting Round Rock next week following a home game against former 12-5A foe Bryan. Because of a relative scarcity of 5A teams in the Central Texas area, it didn’t leave coaches many options outside of Killeen and Round Rock.
“When you realistically look at it, you almost need to go into the (Dallas-Fort Worth) Metroplex to get a 5A district, and if not, you have to go east, and now you’re back into traveling to Bryan or traveling to A&M (Consolidated),” Southern said.
Filing the schedule
The schedule has made things especially easy for Stony Point, which won’t face a non-district team outside of 8-5A for the next two years after filling out its preseason slate with games against Heights, Belton, Shoemaker and Killeen.
This is undoubtedly a welcomed change after the Tigers scheduled home games against two teams from Mexico last year — Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon and Monterrey Prepa Tech — while also mixing in home-and-home series with San Antonio Wagner and DeSoto.
“I don’t really know why (we scheduled all 8-5A games). Before I knew it, I scheduled Harker Heights, I said OK. Belton, OK,” said Stony Point coach Craig Chessher. “Then, all of a sudden, I really couldn’t find anyone to play me from down south and, frankly, going south from Austin becomes tough traffic-wise.”
For the Round Rock schools, it has allowed them the opportunity to maintain a competitive balance without having to make the 1 1/2 hour trip to either Waco or San Antonio.
“Mostly, it allows us to get out of Austin and we can go north and play some great football teams and not deal with the (Austin) traffic issues,” Cheatham said. “It’s a lot easier traveling than (going to Austin or San Antonio). Obviously you want to get out of Austin, because we’re all either in the same district or we’re first-round opponents.”
Two years ago, Round Rock had to travel south to San Antonio twice with games against Cibolo Steele and San Antonio Roosevelt, not to mention the season-opener at Waco Midway last year.
“When you go south of Austin to San Antonio, it’s not much (fun), it makes it really tough on the kids, the coaches, everything,” Cheatham said.
As a 5A program, it was also important to play other similarly-sized teams in order to allow all levels a chance at competition, from the freshman B team to varsity.
“The thing with me is the fact that the Round Rocks and the Stony Points are going to have two JV (teams),” Southern said. “We’ve played Stony Point the last few years with freshman C teams, so they have numbers like we have now.”
And while travel costs are down, and it may not be as exciting as trips to Cowboys Stadium or the Alamodome, the overall benefit could be greater in the end for all parties.
“I think it creates a good, healthy rivalry among the Central Texas schools,” Mullins said.