New schools recycle old problems in Frisco

Frisco Centennial head coach Mark Howard thought his team had a bright future in the fall of 2006.

His junior high feeder teams were rolling to undefeated records behind a class of 2011 that looked like one that could define his nascent program.

“I was licking my chops,” Howard said.

But the growth in Frisco that spawned the need to open the school where he coached didn’t slow down. In fact, it picked up.

To combat overcrowding at Frisco High and Centennial, the district opened two more high schools – Liberty and Wakeland. Liberty pulled students from Centennial when it opened, including much of the class of 2011 that Howard coveted so much.

He could do nothing but watch as the players he helped groom fueled long playoff runs at Liberty in 2009 and 2010.

“We lost them,” Howard said. “When you open new schools and kids break off and go to other schools, it’s tough.”

And so it goes for the Frisco ISD schools. The city’s rapid growth has led to rapid expansion in the school district. Since 2003, Frisco has opened five new high schools. A sixth is on its way in a few years.

The expansion has had a profound impact on athletics at each school. When new schools open, they take kids from existing schools where entire classes of students are cut. The total number of students suddenly drops. This often weakens the athletic programs, particularly football teams because they need so many players to be successful.

No team better exemplifies the highs and lows that expansion can create better than Liberty. In just its second year of varsity play in 2009, Liberty went three rounds deep in the playoffs behind the students it took from Centennial.

But when Frisco Heritage opened last year, it took students from Liberty, which doesn’t have a full senior class this year. While the Redhawks (5-2, 2-2) have still managed to stay competitive this season, they are clearly not what they were, having lost to Centennial and Carrollton Creekview in consecutive weeks.

It may get worse before it gets better for Liberty because Frisco’s seventh high school will pull from Liberty when it opens in a couple years, dealing Liberty two blows in a short period of time.

“When you lose half or more of a group of kids you’ve been coaching coming up through your feeder system, that’s hard to overcome quickly and have your numbers build back up,” said Frisco head coach Vance Gibson. “We’ve made it through that cycle.”

Frisco went through what Liberty is about to go through. Centennial pulled from Frisco when it opened in 2003. Just as numbers were beginning to come back up at Frisco, Wakeland opened in 2006, taking the better part of Frisco’s incoming junior and senior classes.

While this achieved the more important goal of opening a new high school with a full curriculum and easing overcrowding, it had a catastrophic impact on Frisco’s football team.

After making the playoffs in 2007, Frisco went 0-10 in 2008 and 2009.

“When Wakeland came in, our whole school’s numbers went down pretty dramatically,” Gibson said. “We were a really really small school compared to the people we were competing against.”

Frisco’s newest schools – Heritage and Lone Star – pulled from Liberty and Wakeland, respectively. This has allowed Frisco and Centennial to build its numbers back up while its competition in District 9-4A is either dealing with losing a class (Liberty and Wakeland) or is a brand new school (Heritage).

Not surprisingly, Frisco and Centennial have flourished as a result of not being picked on by expansion. The Titans (7-0, 4-0) are dominating opponents with their defense while no one has found a way to slow down Frisco’s (6-1, 4-0) running game yet.

The two teams meet for what may be the District 9-4A title at 7 p.m. Thursday at Pizza Hut Park.

“This our best team since we started the program,” said Howard, who’s been the coach at Centennial since it opened. “We’re treading in some water we’ve never crossed before.”