Alone at the Altar: Panthers' pursuit of a final game comes up short
Plano East head football coach Johnny Ringo entered the Birdville Fine Arts Athletic Complex for the UIL's biennial realignment on Feb. 2 with a clear-cut objective in mind.
With matchups already lined up for the first three weeks of the season -- Garland, Garland Naaman Forest and Richardson Berkner -- plus the Panthers' scrimmage (Hebron), Ringo patiently awaited the release of the realigned districts like any other coach crammed into the realignment hub that morning.
And then things got hectic.
Initially anticipating an eight-team district, Ringo and East had been shuffled into the six-team District 10-5A alongside Plano Senior, Plano West, Allen, McKinney Boyd and McKinney, creating two more openings on the Panthers' schedule for non-district games.
It sent Ringo and others into a frenzy to fill those voids and while a ninth game was procured -- at Flower Mound Marcus on Sept. 21 -- an opponent for either Week 4 or Week 5 could not be found at the time.
An odd change of events given how the UIL's template for this unique circumstance is supposed to pan out.
"There are four six-team districts in the state, two here and two in San Antonio," Ringo said. "The format works if all the teams will play each other."
Hence why the 10-5A schedules are littered with non-district matchups against 5-5A -- the other six-team district that includes familiar foes in Marcus, Flower Mound, Hebron and Lewisville, plus Coppell and Denton Ryan.
The Panthers were able to secure a matchup with Marcus and after discussions with fellow district bunkmates, the only remaining option was Ryan, who found itself in the same scheduling conundrum as the Panthers.
Ryan was content to stand pat, though.
"Denton Ryan was the only possibility," Ringo said. "They have nine games like we do but they didn't want to play us, so that's kind of where we are."
The Raiders had openings for Week 3 and Week 5, opting to proceed with their four-game non-district campaign.
"(It surprised me) a little bit," Ringo said. "[Ryan head coach Joey Florence and I] are good friends and didn't want that to come into play, so I don't know. I've played good friends before but that's none of my business; that's their deal and they chose to go that route."
With the lone remaining 5-5A team out of the mix, that sent the Panthers into a scramble to find a 10th opponent. Options arose from all over the state, with possible candidates including Tyler John Tyler, The Woodlands, The Woodlands College Park, Cibolo Steele, Stephenville, Jasper, Monterrey Tech and even Oklahoma powerhouse Jenks.
But for one reason for another, nothing ever materialized.
Ringo admits the Panthers have had trouble scheduling opponents in the past due to East's grandiose enrollment -- currently the largest in the state at 6,015.5. That, coupled with issues in scheduling on the other team's end or other opportunities for opponents arising, left the Panthers without a dance partner this week or last.
"We feel like we did everything in our power to get this done," Ringo said. "I'm not sure there's anything else we could have done unless we offered somebody $100,000 to come play us and that's not going to happen at the high school level."
That would refer to the chance of bringing a firm in to find an out-of-state opponent, with schools from Pensacola (Fla.) and Tennessee emerging as possible candidates.
"A lot of times when they want to do that, there are huge monetary costs to bring a team to you to play," Ringo said. "In our district, we're not going to do that. We don't have $30,000 or $50,000 to fly a team here to play us."
The Panthers even contemplated the idea of an intra-squad scrimmage for Week 4, but both Clark and Kimbrough Stadium were already booked.
Ringo said East had been searching up until this past week and would have still taken Ryan up on a potential matchup in Week 5. That won't be the case, however, with the Panthers currently in their second of three weeks away from the Friday night gridiron.
"We had heard about it just when we started scheduling," said Jackson Garrey, senior linebacker. "Coach told us at the beginning of the season that we weren't going to have that 10th game and it's a bummer because it's our senior season and all, but we're going to try and use it to our advantage."
That's the case from personnel to staff.
"It is what it is," Ringo said. "It's frustrating that we couldn't get somebody to play but we can't dwell on that. We're 4-0 and doing a lot of good things right now, and that's the team's focus and mine."
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