For more than 100 years, Mansfield was a one high-school town. In that time, you could call its football playoff success limited. In fact, there was none. It sounds counterintuitive, but it seems the more the district splits up, the more successful it has become.
Since Summit High School opened in 2002, the Mansfield ISD has been divided three additional times, bringing the total to five high schools when Lake Ridge opened five years ago.
Over that time frame the district has enjoyed enviable playoff success, highlighted by last season’s runs of Lake Ridge to the Class 5A Division I championship game and Mansfield to the 6A Division I state semifinals. Lake Ridge and Mansfield are back in the regional round this season, joined by the Legacy Broncos.
“I think it starts with all the people moving to Mansfield,” Legacy coach Chris Melson said. “When you have an influx of people and then you hire quality people to lead those programs, over time you’re going to have success.”
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Legacy (10-2) has matched its deepest-ever playoff run by reaching the regional round in 5A Division I, where it will meet Frisco Wakeland (8-4) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at The Star in Frisco. And while Legacy hasn’t been perennially practicing over Thanksgiving week, it’s indicative of a recent trend that finds a Mansfield school or two — or more — making an extended playoff appearance.
“I think the success at all the schools has raised the expectations of the parents and the athletes,” Melson said. “You see that every year, that somebody is going to make a run — maybe multiple schools.”
Lake Ridge is on its third consecutive extended run. The Eagles (8-4) match up with Dallas Highland Park (10-2) in a 5A Division I game Friday at 1 p.m. at The Star in Frisco.
Lake Ridge coach Kirk Thor has been involved in Mansfield athletics for a long time, dating to a stint as the head coach at Mansfield High before moving to the athletics office, which he subsequently left to start the Lake Ridge program in 2011.
“We’ve got a great district with great kids. When you give more kids an opportunity to play, you give more kids an opportunity to rise and develop,” he said. “Sometimes when you have one big school with a lot of numbers, some kids get lost. I think it’s great that more of our kids have more opportunities to play and develop, and I think they reach their potential faster.”
The original Mansfield High — the one that labored for a century without playoff success — is three rounds deep for the third time in six seasons, and fourth time since 2008. The Tigers were a win short of the state championship game last year. Friday’s Mansfield (10-2) versus Cedar Hill (10-2) Class 6A Division II game from the Birdville ISD Fine Arts/Athletic Complex will be televised live on KTXA/Ch. 21 beginning at 7:30 p.m.
“The growth of the town, quality athletes and quality coaches has really been a benefit to Mansfield,” Tigers coach Dan Maberry said. “The quality of kids has been unreal. We’ve been fortunate enough to have some good athletes come through and help us be successful.”
Timberview and Summit have also seen their share of playoff success in recent years, and all the coaches will tell you they pull for each other.
“We’re all great friends and get along well,” Thor said. “When we’re not playing each other we’re rooting for each other. It’s a big family atmosphere. Our checks say Mansfield ISD, not Lake Ridge.”
“The thing I appreciate about it is the relationships I have with the other coaches in the district,” Maberry added. “The coaches have a lot of mutual respect for each other and want the other schools to be successful. I think that’s kind of unique compared to a lot of places. When the other teams have success, it gives us a sense of pride.”
The coaches also agree that sense of pride spills over into the Mansfield community as a whole, even if it’s split five ways.
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“I think it’s a big boost for the community,” Maberry said. “When you go around town and in the community, there really is a sense of pride amongst everybody. [Last year] there was a big buzz in the community about all the teams.
“I think it’s also exciting for the kids because they think about places that have one school and then look at us and think, ‘Man, there’s a lot of talent in the town of Mansfield.’ I think it does create a big sense of community and a big sense of community pride.”
Running back Kennedy Brooks returned from injury after two weeks off to run for 221 yards and 5 touchdowns as Mansfield rolled in the Bi-District playoff.
Mansfield Lake Ridge defensive end Brandon Nettles slashes through the line to deliver a big hit in the Eagles game against Mansfield Timberview.
The heart and soul of the Bearcats' defense, James Williams won't let any player or challenge get in the way of his football dreams.
A look at recent playoff runs by Mansfield ISD football teams:
Mansfield: 2016 three rounds, 2015 state semifinal, 2011 three rounds, 2008 three rounds
Lake Ridge: 2016 three rounds, 2015 state final, 2014 three rounds
Legacy: 2016 three rounds, 2013 three rounds
Timberview: 2011 state semifinal, 2007 three rounds
Summit: 2004 three rounds