Softball 5A Region 1 Finals – A Matchup for the History Books

By Drew Wyrick, Drew.Wyrick@fwisd.org

Posted by request:

What do Grapevine, Boswell, Heritage, Canyon, Amarillo, Aledo, Birdville, and Eaton all have in common? That may be a trivia question in the future when talking about UIL 5A softball playoffs of the past. If you are thinking they are all perennial powers of 5A Region 1, you would not necessarily be wrong. Together, they have a combined playoff record of 136-90 and have appeared in the State Tournament 7 times. If you filled out a bracket prior to the playoffs, you may have picked two of these schools to play in the regional finals. In the end, this isn’t what these schools have in common this year. This year, each one of them was knocked out of the playoffs by a Title 1 school.

At the beginning of the playoffs, Region 1 consisted of 19 Title 1 out of the 32 schools. Lubbock Coronado and Arlington Heights are the final two teams in Region 1, both are Title 1 Funded High Schools. Coronado has been to the playoffs for 23 consecutive years and went to the State Tournament in 2014. They have been here before, but they weren’t Title 1 for all those playoff years. What is more impressive is that Arlington Heights has knocked off four of those schools on their path to the Regional Finals, Coronado defeated two of them. The games have been close, the series have been intense. Coronado went to three games in both of their matchups and Heights has won by a run in several of their victories. Both teams should be proud for what they have accomplished this year.

Don’t be fooled though, Title 1 schools are at an enormous disadvantage in UIL competition. Azle High School is the only Title 1 school in Region 1 that is closer to the cutoff (Schools must have at least 40% of theirpopulation to qualify for Title 1) than Heights, and Coronado is the 4th lowest. For the other 15 schools and numerous others that don’t make the playoffs, most of which have significantly more students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, getting this far in the playoffs is but a dream. Playing the game of softball takes money. After the equipment, there is sometimes very little left for other things. In case you haven’t caught on, I’m talking about summer ball. UIL rules prohibit a high school coach from coaching their athletes outside of the softball season. For schools that aren’t Title 1, this may seem like a rule that doesn’t matter. Generally, those athletes can afford better equipment and instruction. While they are traveling the country playing softball, many Title 1 students are working to help provide for their families. The best softball instruction most of these kids receive is from their high school coaches.

I could keep throwing gaudy numbers out there to get my point across, but I have tried that during a previous rule meeting and it didn’t change anything. The UIL makes everything equal for all member institutions. Things like equal number of teams in the division, equal number of playoff positions, and equal number of hoursfor team practices. In a utopia, this is a good practice. However, if this practice made things equitable, there would be no such things as Title 1 funding. Schools are not equal, situations are not equal, and competition is not equal. You must look past the only thing that is equal, which is the 14-18-year-old athlete that is on the field. Everyone deserves the same instructional opportunities and sometimes that means allowing a high school coach to continue to coach their athletes on the fundamentals of the game. To be clear, I am saying let us all coach, not just the Title 1 schools. I am willing to give those athletes two options (High school coach or Travel Ball Coach) during the summer so that mine can have the one option they deserve. Keep an eye out for this matchup between the Arlington Heights Yellowjackets and the Coronado Mustangs, because until the UIL changes this rule, you may never see two Title 1 schools in the finals again!

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Update: Arlington Heights defeated Coronado in the Regional Finals and will be playing in the State Tournament this weekend.