A Judson High School graduate, Mark Soto cut his teeth playing football against Greater San Antonio teams.
Now head football coach at San Marcos High School, Soto was happy to see the Rattlers return to a San Antonio-area district with the UIL's biennial realignment, which was announced Thursday.
San Marcos, which was in an Austin-area district and a different UIL region the past two seasons, will play in District 26-6A with Clemens, East Central, Judson, New Braunfels, New Braunfels Canyon, Smithson Valley and Steele for the next two years.
San Marcos replaces Wagner, which competed in the same district (27-6A) with the seven other schools the past two seasons. Wagner dropped to 5A and will compete in 13-5A Division I with the seven San Antonio ISD schools and Veterans Memorial, the third high school in the Judson ISD.
Soto acknowledged that San Marcos is stepping up in competition, but he said the Rattlers are ready to take on the challenge.
"Every week, you better be ready to go in this district," said Soto, who is also athletic director of the San Marcos ISD. "That's coaches and kids. That's the great thing about it. It takes a village to run a team, so in this district, coaches, community, the kids have got to be ready to go.
"We're really excited to go in there. It is a good challenge for us. I think we're ready for the move up. I think our community is ready for the move up, so we're really excited. We're right where we want to me. Glad to be back home."
More than 100 football coaches and athletic director from throughout the area gathered at the Region 20 Education Service Center to pick up their realignment packets and nail down nondistrict football schedules through 2019.
As usual, realignment yielded some surprises. The biggest was South San moving into a district with the seven NEISD schools. South San had been in a district with Southwest, four Laredo schools, Del Rio and Eagle Pass the past two years.
The University Interscholastic League, which governs extracurricular activities in Texas public schools, uses enrollment figures to set parameters for its six classifications and realign districts every two years. The new realignment announced Thursday goes into effect at the start of the 2018-19 school year.
San Antonio-area 6A schools will compete in three districts.
South San will join NEISD schools Churchill, Johnson, Lee, MacArthur, Madison, Reagan and Roosevelt in District 27-6A. The North East schools were formerly in 26-6A.
Nothing changed in the Northside ISD's 10-team district, which is still designated 28-6A. The only difference is that the district -- composed of Brandeis, Brennan, Clark, Holmes, Jay, Marshall, O'Connor, Stevens, Taft and Warren -- won't be split into zones. Each school will play one nondistrict game in football before starting league play.
The ninth NISD school, Harlan, will compete in District 14-5A Division I with Eagle Pass Winn, Harlandale, Laredo Martin, McCollum, Southwest and Southwest Legacy. With Legacy opening, Southwest dropped to 5A.
Class 5A will be divided into 16 Division I districts and 16 Division II districts for football only, starting with the 2018 season.
Wagner dropped to the UIL's second-largest classification for the first time in its history. Thunderbirds coach Charles Bruce said the Thunderbirds are looking forward to being in the same district with sister school Veterans Memorial and SAISD schools Brackenridge, Burbank, Edison, Highlands, Jefferson, Lanier and Sam Houston.
"I feel good for our school, I feel good about it for our kids," Wagner coach Charles Bruce said of the Thunderbirds' new district. "The game is the same, no matter what sport you're playing, but we're now matched up with teams that look like us number-wise."
Although Wagner dropped a class, the Thunderbirds still will play rival Judson in the annual Hammer Bowl, Bruce said.
San Antonio area teams will compete in two 5A Division II districts.
Edgewood ISD schools Kennedy and Memorial were moved out a district that included all seven SAISD schools, and placed in District 14-4A Division II with Alamo Heights, Boerne Champion, Kerrville Tivy, Lockhart, Medina Valley and Uvalde.
Kennedy and Memorial have struggled mightily competing against the likes of Alamo Heights, Boerne Champion and Tivy in the past.
"It is what it is," Edgewood athletic director Robert Gomez said. "We'll play wherever they put us. Travel-wise, obviously, we'll have some added expense. The one thing that I don't like is that our volleyball, basketball and football districts are all different.
"We'll have to play. If you want to get better, you play better teams, so we're facing some tough programs. It'll be a tough test, but we'll show up."
Memorial football coach Kemmie Lewis, who led the Minutemen to their first district championship last year, expressed confidence that his players will embrace the challenge.
"Right now, we're coming into this thing as a champion, first of all," Lewis said. "Years before, when we played teams from the Hill Country, we were still trying to figure out what Memorial was all about. The kids have the experience of being in a bigger district, a tougher district, and competing.
"That's not going to be a big issue for us. What I wanted personally was a level playing field. It won't be as level as it was when we played SAISD, but we're going to have some type of leverage where we can attack in different ways. We're confident in our skills. We have a good foundation. Our kids are excited. They want to play football. We have a different identify now."
Floresville, Somerset and Southside are the only area schools in District 15-5A Division II, The other teams in the district are Alice, Corpus Christi Calallen, Corpus Christi Tuloso-Midway, Gregory-Portland, and Port Lavaca Calhoun.