The Carthage Bulldogs won't get a chance to defend their state title in 2020, but only because the number of students in Carthage ISD dropped this year.
As a results, the Class 4A Division I State Champions will drop down into Division II for the next two years.
The Bulldogs' new district was announced by the University Interscholastic League on Monday as part of its bi-annual realignment.
Carthage will be in District 10-4A, remain in Region III and be joined by Center, Jasper, Madisonville, Shepherd and Rusk.
Of the other five teams, Jasper, Center and Rusk all made the playoffs, although the combined record for the rest of the conference was 22-31 with Jasper (8-3) and Center (6-5) the only teams to finish above .500.
"We're excited about this because we didn't know where we'd be," Carthage Head Coach Scott Surratt said. "We didn't know where they'd send us.
"We've played Jasper and Center and Rusk in the past, but we've never played Shepherd and Madisonville before, and we know nothing about them."
A new district means finding a new set of teams to play in non-district — and not too many teams are thrilled with the idea of playing the Bulldogs after they claimed their seventh state title in the last 13 years back in December.
Several schools told Surratt they would not play the Dawgs.
"I knew I had one nailed down and another that I thought would play us," he said. "That meant I was looking for at least three games. It wasn't easy."
The Bulldogs will open the season against the Crosby Cougars (6-6) in the New Caney Classic. Week 2 will be San Antonio Cornerstone, a private school. That game will be played in Carthage both seasons.
Game 3 will be the Marshall Mavericks, who have been on the Bulldogs' schedule the last two seasons.
Week 4 will be open followed by Week 5 against Gilmer and Week 6 against Pleasant Grove.
Those two teams have been on the Carthage schedule several seasons, including the past two.
"Our preseason is going to be as tough as anyone in the state," Surratt said. "It'll get us ready for district and ready for the playoffs if we get that far. Pleasant Grove is the defending state champion, and they'll have a lot back. Gilmer has everybody back. Crosby is supposed to have a lot of people back and Cornerstone is supposed to have the top quarterback in the state.
"I feel very fortunate to have been able to fill the schedule. It's always good to play some different people. But I'm going to miss playing Kilgore and Henderson."
Surratt said the members of the new district would meet later Tuesday to make up the District 10-4A part of the schedule.
For volleyball and basketball, Carthage will be in District 17-4A.
Center, Jasper and Rusk are with them in those districts, as is Palestine in volleyball and basketball and Lufkin Hudson in basketball, giving them a six-team district.
Although the Beckville Bearcats stayed in Division I in Class 2A, they were joining a whole new district in 9-2A for football. Linden-Kildare makes the same move, and Hawkins will stay on the schedule as a district foe.
New teams in the district will be Big Sandy, Frankston, Gladewater Union Grove and Price Carlisle.
"I was pretty pleased with where they put us," said second-year Head Coach Cody Ross of Beckville. "I was a little surprised we went north. I figured we'd be back south. But that suits us better. We have more familiarity. We play them in everything else with the same kids in other programs.
"It's going to be just as tough. Frankston's coming down from 3A and Carlisle is always good. Big Sandy and Union Grove are good, too."
The non-district part of the schedule for the Bearcats includes Joaquin, Harleton, Maude and West Sabine.
"I think this schedule suits our kids and suits our program," Ross said. "It's going to be tough right off the bat. But I feel good about being to play with the new guys."
The athletic directors will meet next week to finalize the district schedule.
It will be District 20-2A in volleyball as the Ladycats take aim at another deep playoff run.
Most of the district schools remain the same, as Garrison, Gary, San Augustine, Shelbyville and Timpson are back. West Sabine is the newcomer, replacing Carlisle.
In basketball, Beckville will be part of District 21-2A and its district rivals will be Big Sandy, Union Grove, Hawkins, Overton and Carlisle.
Gary is in District 23-2A in basketball along with Joaquin, Martinsville, San Augustine, Shelbyville, Tenaha and Timpson.
The UIL is still working out the districts for spring sports.
Schools can appeal the new districts two different ways:
They can ask for a vote by the district they want to leave and the one they want to join. If they get a majority from both districts, they can move.
If they fail to get a majority with either district, they can then appeal to the UIL District Assignment Appeals Committee. The deadline for appealing the new districts is Feb. 14.
CARTHAGE 2020 SCHEDULE
at Crosby (New Caney Classic)
vs. SA Cornerstone
vs. Pleasant Grove
*District 10-4A games. Could be home or away.
BECKVILLE 2020 SCHEDULE
vs. W. Sabine
vs. Big Sandy*
vs. Union Grove*
**District 10-4A games. Could be home or away.