It's looking more like Payson High School will move up to the Class 4A ranks from 3A where the Longhorns have resided since the early 1980s.
With an enrollment of 968 on Oct. 1, Payson High has simply outgrown the 3A conference that limits schools to 950 students. Since the move up is inevitable, Longhorn coaches are scrambling to find out what region the school will be placed in. Many in charge including boys basketball coach Mike Loutzenheiser, wrestling coach Dave LaMotte and baseball coach Teddy Pettet would like for Payson to be included in a Phoenix-area region.
Loutzenheiser wants the Horns to play in Scottsdale with the likes of Arcadia and Coronado. LaMotte says he thinks an East Valley league with Tempe and Apache Junction would be good. Pettet says either would be fine with him.
All three coaches agree they do not want to be included in a northern region with the three Flagstaff schools, Tuba City, Chinle and Mingus. Winter travel over the Rim to those cities is too time consuming and dangerous. Poor road conditions during the months that snow blankets the northland can make bus travel an adventure.
Whichever 4A region the Arizona Interscholastic Association assigns Payson to, the relocation will mean a step up in competition. That will be especially true in wrestling, where the 4A state tournament usually has more accomplished wrestlers than do 2A and 3A.
East is toughest
There are some in the communities of Coolidge, Globe, Wickenburg, Queen Creek, Higley and elsewhere who might argue that the East region is not the toughest in 3A prep football.
But the evidence that the East is the most competitive speaks for itself.
The last time a team other than an East region power won the 3A state championship was in 1984 when coach Larry Delbridge led Coolidge to the crown by defeating Round Valley 28-20.
Since then, Lakeside Blue Ridge, Snowflake, Show Low and Payson have taken turns winning the state crown.
Of course, Blue Ridge has been the dominant force in that East victory streak, having won nine state championships since 1985. Snowflake has played to four titles since 1982 and tied for another. Show Low and Payson each have a state crown during the East victory run.
Blue Ridge entered the 2002 campaign on a 26-game winning streak, but that was halted when Winslow whipped the Yellow Jackets 14-0 and BR had to forfeit a pair of games for using an ineligible player.
This year, Blue Ridge might not have the inside run at the state title as it has in the past, but the East still sports two legitimate title contenders in Payson and Snowflake.