What A Difference A Conference Can Make

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In the White Mountains, which is home to one Class 2A and five 3A high schools, there is quite a stir going on about the small-school state championship football games not being played in Sun Devil Stadium.

The ASU facility hosts the 4A and 5A championship games, but the small-school finals are slated this year for Tempe McClintock High School.

White Mountain football fans are claiming that by holding the 2A and 3A championships in a high school facility and not at ASU, the Arizona Interscholastic Association has deemed the small schools less worthy than their big school counterparts.

One of those leading the White Mountain charge to have all the championship games played at ASU is Jim Belshe.

As the operator of the whitemountainfootball.com website, the host of a Friday night football show and the father of a former Show Low High School quarterback, Belshe claims the AIA “seems to feel like it is OK for the small-town schools to play the state title game in a high school facility while the larger conferences enjoy playing in Sun Devil Stadium.”

Belshe would like for small-town football fans to join him in convincing AIA officials to hold the 1A-3A championships at ASU.

Last week, Belshe sent a letter of protest to AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer.

It read in part:

The AIA claims to provide “AIA member schools with an even playing field to ensure fair and equitable competition in interscholastic activities.”

They also claim to be “committed to the inclusion of equitable interscholastic opportunities for both boys and girls in all Arizona high schools.”

However, the AIA actions with regard of venue for state football games has been quite the contrary. The AIA may provide equitable match-ups by classifying schools by size, but they have failed to provide an equitable experience and reward to players and fans.

Athletes and students in larger conferences get the benefit of playing in a state university stadium for the title game.

The athletes and parents of smaller conferences do not.

It is my belief that small conference football has a much higher participation and fan support per-capita than larger conferences.

The AIA should not punish athletes who are geographically limited to participation in athletics at smaller schools. Nor, should they punish those athletes, who for religious or philosophical reasons have chosen to attend smaller private schools.

The discriminatory attitude toward rural communities is disturbing. I believe all athletes in the AIA should be treated equally regardless of where they attend school.

I think you need to gauge how the AIA’s decision to exclude the 1A-3A schools from Sun Devil stadium has affected the athletes in these conferences. I encourage you to visit a first round football game in the White Mountains. Specifically, I recommend the Payson at Blue Ridge game (on Nov. 8). Why don’t you walk the sidelines and ask the players on both sides how they feel about the 4A/5A schools playing at Sun Devil Stadium and them playing at McClintock?

Then, go through the stands and ask the parents/fans how they feel about it.

Belshe has offered to Slemmer his 15-minute radio segment each Friday night.

“You can explain to everyone on the air why we are not worthy of the same experience as the larger conferences,” he said.

Belshe is asking other small-town football fans to voice their concerns to Slemmer by calling (602) 385-3811. Slemmer can also be contacted at hslemmer@aiaonline.org.

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