Stephany Grixby thought it was a sure thing.
Her daughter, Brooklynn, an eighth-grader at Morton Magnet Middle School, planned to go to Omaha Central High School, as most members of her extended family have for the past decade.
Brooklynn, like her older cousins — the Grixby brothers who starred in basketball and football and helped win state titles for the Eagles — would fill out the paperwork to open enroll in Omaha's downtown high school.
On the Omaha Public Schools form, she picked Central as her No. 1 choice. She didn't mark a second choice.
Her mom recently opened the letter from the Omaha Public Schools and learned that Brooklynn has been assigned to her neighborhood school, Northwest High, because Central was full.
About 200 students who picked Central as their No. 1 choice received similar letters last week.
For the first time in recent memory, Central — the state's largest high school, with 2,397 students — is out of room.
About 890 incoming eighth-graders picked Central as their No. 1 choice, said Matt Ray, OPS director of student and community services.
The school had 685 spots for freshmen.
With Central's enrollment capped, two of OPS' seven high schools now have lids on their enrollments. Incoming freshmen classes at Burke High have been capped since the 2004-05 school year.
"You put yourself in a very precarious position" when enrollment grows too big, said Keith Bigsby, Central principal.
Central, which was built in the early 1900s, has long drawn students because of its academic and sports traditions. Its boys basketball team has won five of the last six Class A state titles and is favored to win the 2012 championship.
Development in midtown and downtown, Bigsby said, including TD Ameritrade Park's opening and Midtown Crossing's popularity, also has helped the school at 20th and Dodge Streets.
The influx of eighth-graders has largely been from neighborhoods outside of midtown and downtown. Approximately 485 of the 685 accepted students don't live inside Central's attendance area.
"We obviously did a really good job of marketing. I'm aware of that," Bigsby said.
McKenzie Clayton, a freshman, is among the students who've opted for Central, even though she lives across the street from Burke High, 120th Street and West Dodge Road.
She went to eighth grade at Beveridge Magnet Middle School, a feeder school for Burke that's about a mile and a half away.
McKenzie's placement at Burke was guaranteed since she lived in the neighborhood.
She went to open houses for both schools, but, at Central, the staff and students seemed eager to draw her in.
So she chose Central, just like her mom, who graduated in 1986.
Her classmates tell similar stories of being excited about the open house, including the one-on-one tours and a speech from Bigsby.
Central, with its grandiose historic building on the site of Nebraska's former territorial Capitol, has a who's who list of alumni that includes actor Henry Fonda, former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers and business executive Peter Kiewit.
Central's student population has been above 2,000 students since the 1997-98 school year.
Putting a limit on Central's enrollment has been discussed in the past, as recently as the 2002-03 school year, when enrollment was around 2,500 students. But a cap was not put in place until now.
OPS officials said they expect high school enrollments to fluctuate.
With Central and Burke not available as options, parents may look to other schools, Ray said. Benson and Northwest High Schools, for example, have installed new magnet programs in recent years and are far below capacity.
Brooklynn Grixby, like her older cousins, plays two sports: volleyball and basketball.
She and her parents plan to tour Millard North, Bellevue West and Westside High Schools. And they're not giving up on Central; they plan to put in a transfer request next month.
"I just want my daughter to get the best education wherever she goes," Stephany Grixby said. "I think Central is the best place for her."
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