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Sat Dec 1, 2018, 03:35 PM

The Expectations and Realities of Six-Man Football in Small-Town Texas

On the afternoon of August 31, New Home School football players had just rallied to edge out the cheerleaders in a team hula-hoop competition when junior Riley Stokes—dressed as a leopard—grabbed a cordless microphone. It was the first pep rally of the 2018 season, and the crowd of students, teachers, and families didn’t need much coaxing to cheer. “The Leopards are starting a new season!” Stokes yelled, bending her knees and waving her free arm with a mascot’s trademark excitement. “And now, they’re playing eleven-man football!” The gym burst into cheers.

A few hours later, New Home sent eleven Leopards onto a football field for the first time since 1982. For more than three decades, the town of a little more than 350—located about 20 miles south of Lubbock—has been represented by a six-man football team, the University Interscholastic League’s special concession to its smallest schools.

The current minimum enrollment to qualify for UIL eleven-man play is 104.9 high school students, and New Home stood at 93 when the bi-annual state reclassification took place last February. But as Lubbock’s population balloons and families move out of the city for more elbow room, the New Home school system has grown. It’s on pace to outgrow UIL’s smallest enrollment category, Class 1A, likely by the next reclassification in 2020. So according to Athletic Director Koby Abney, the administration decided last fall “to turn the inevitable into the immediate” and go eleven-man beginning in 2018. Eighteen other UIL schools joined New Home in “playing up” to Class 2A, but 137 others will play six-man the next two academic years.

Hundreds of miles away from New Home, down in a picturesque southwest corner of the Hill Country, the town of Leakey (pronounced LAY-key) isn’t growing. The Frio River flows down the town’s east side and attracts visitors in the summer who enjoy rafting, tubing, and vacation properties. But Mayor Harry Schneemann, who played football for Leakey in the early 1960s, noted the lack of a true industry in the 410-person town. “There’s no reason to move here, especially if you have a student playing sports,” he said. “But as long as there’s a river, there will be a Leakey.”

Read more: https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/expectations-realities-six-man-football-small-town-texas/

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