After relocating to Houston’s NRG Stadium in 2015, the UIL Football State Championships returned to Arlington’s AT&T Stadium this year.
Though attendance didn’t quite reach the quarter-million mark of n 2014, the venue again proved a boon to the event.
Capped by Saturday night’s Austin Lake Travis victory over Conroe The Woodlands in the Class 6A Division I game, officially 245,913 fans entered the stadium gates over four days. This was the first year the UIL added 1A (six-man) title games to the event, bringing the total to 12 games.
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The biggest crowd watched DeSoto claim its first state football title. Officially, 40,318 were in the house to see the Eagles lift the trophy.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the 5A Division I game on Saturday morning featuring another local school — Highland Park versus Temple — boasted the second-highest attendance at 35,089.
Several teams had quite a journey to reach Arlington. Balmorhea, 1A Division II runner-up, logged almost 450 miles each way. Corpus Christi Calallen added over 400 miles to the odometer each way.
Location has at times been a point of some controversy for the state championship games since the UIL moved it to a singular event.
The glitz and glamor is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s about the facility holding what Texas high school football has to offer. Our crowds are always large; they were large last year in Houston.
UIL Director of Athletics Susan Elza
“Your just looking for the best experience for your schools,” UIL Director of Athletics Susan Elza said. “The glitz and glamor is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s about the facility holding what Texas high school football has to offer. Our crowds are always large; they were large last year in Houston.”
Only three venues in this massive state actually meet the UIL’s requirements for hosting the championship event — AT&T, NRG and the Alamodome in San Antonio. The UIL requires a facility be indoors and have four available locker rooms in order to facilitate back-to-back games.
Every two years the UIL reviews the event location, but it might be hard to wrestle it away from North Texas.
“For some reason, the attendance is better here,” said Elza, referring to AT&T Stadium. “I think this year we hit a perfect storm in that most of the [participating] schools were from single-school districts. They tend to bring more of the community rather than dividing them like a multi-school district does. I think that played a factor in our attendance this week.”
Removing the 1A games for comparison, the 10 games last season drew 156,143 at NRG compared to 235,321 this year at AT&T. Arlington drew 250,652 in 2014.
The games return AT&T in 2017. Nothing’s decided beyond that, but Alamodome renovations will be done by 2018.
The coaches love it here. I didn’t talk to a coach here that didn’t say, ‘I love this for our kids and I love this for our community.’
“The coaches love it here,” Elza added. “I didn’t talk to a coach here that didn’t say, ‘I love this for our kids and I love this for our community.’ You’re always going to listen to that.”
There is a contingent that would like to see the location rotated, and Elza said the UIL is always taking feedback from its member institutions.
“It’s something we’re always going to take a look at. If there’s a concern for fairness over travel — more for some teams than others — we’re going to listen. It matters what our schools say.”
It’s hard to say, though, that any place offers a better experience for high school football than AT&T Stadium.
“What I like is that when these kids come here, I think they feel very special,” Elza said. “And that’s what you want a state championship to be for those teams that are participating and their communities that come here. I think we’re hitting a home run on that point.”
UIL football fans
2014 at AT&T Stadium, Arlington
2015 at NRG Stadium, Houston
2016 at AT&T Stadium, Arlington