Ennis escapes, Midlothian moves into a new, loaded District 10

The district is changing again.

The University Interscholastic League, the governing body for high school sports in Texas, released the newest district alignments on Monday.

Though Waxahachie High School waved goodbye to both Ennis and Arlington Seguin high schools, who moved to districts 17 and nine, Waxahachie’s new stomping ground looks as daunting as the old one did before the re-alignment edict – with one difference.

It welcomed an old rival.

“We didn’t gain any ground losing Ennis and getting Midlothian,” said Jon Kitna, the Indians head football coach. “That Wing-T offense is so hard to prepare for. He (Midlothian Panthers head coach Doug Wendel) has those kids playing downhill. They are sound on both sides of the football and super well-coached. I’m excited to play them and I think our district is tough as nails now.”

Midlothian High School will join Waxahachie, Lancaster, Red Oak and Mansfield Lake Ridge, Legacy, Summit and Timberview high schools as part of a new seven-team 10th district already regarded as one of the most difficult in the 5A conference in football, basketball, and volleyball by the most ardent of the state’s sports pundits.

The sister cities of Waxahachie and Midlothian haven’t seen district competition since 2013, when Midlothian High School moved up to the UIL’s newly formed 6A conference.

Before its move to a higher classification – Midlothian barely made the cutoff at 2,327 enrolled students with a 2,100 student requirement in 2013 – the Panthers had compiled a 5-28-1 football record against the Indians, dating back to 1913.

Steve Middleton, the Midlothian Panthers head basketball coach, said despite trading Cedar Hill and South Grand Prairie for the likes of Lancaster and Waxahachie, their road to a state title isn’t any less treacherous.

“I don’t know if I’m excited about it,” he said. Basketball-wise, I don’t know if it’s that much more of an easy route,” he said. “You still have Lancaster, Red Oak and Waxahachie, who lives, eats and breathes to beat us.”

Middleton said by shifting some teams to different districts and either raising or dropping others to other conferences made the competition level closer.

“You don’t have Cedar Hill and DeSoto all the way up here and everyone else down here,” he continued. “Every team is closer together in terms of talent. It’s a good fit for Ellis County, but I wish they could have put Ennis in there with us.”

Some coaches, like Wendel, are just excited about a raise in the level of competition by entering one the best districts in the state.

It will be a tremendous challenge, but one we are looking forward to with great anticipation, he said.

“We’re fired up about the opportunity to compete in the best area in the country for high school football, and the new district is talent-filled with players and coaches alike,” Wendel continued. “It will be a tremendous challenge, but one we are looking forward to with great anticipation.”

In addition to playing two district games against their cross-county rivals, Waxahachie will also face Lakeview Centennial and Highland Park high schools as a part of their non-district schedule.

The Indians have played Garland Lakeview Centennial only three times since 1977, winning all three matchups, and has played Highland Park a total of nine times since 1943, losing six football games during that span.

Though he and his staff had to scramble a little after the loss of the John Tyler High School matchup, Kitna said those games will be a litmus test for where they are as a program.

“We had a verbal agreement with John Tyler to play them, but their superintendent stepped in and said they want to play a team in East Texas during week one,” Kitna said. “Garland Lakeview is a very similar team to us and in a great district and Highland Park is a program that’s been sustainably great and relevant every year. “I like playing teams like that because it gives your coaching staff and players a vision of where we’re trying to get to.”

For those wondering if the Battle of 287 has seen an end, never fear. Despite Ennis’ move to District 10, Greg Reed, the WISD athletic director, said as long as there’s a will, there will always be a home for the Indians-Lions rivalry.

“If at all possible, we’ll play Ennis every year,” he said. “There have been several UIL alignments over the years that placed us in different districts, but we always competed against each other. The Battle of 287 will go on. It has nothing to do with them being in the district. They weren’t in our football district the last two years.”