The Longhorns' once ferocious rivalry with the Beasts of the East -- Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Show Low --could be renewed next school year.
Such a reunion would occur if the Arizona Interscholastic Association -- the governing body of high school sports in the state -- approves Payson High School's petition to move from the 4A conference, where the school is now, to 3A.
PHS athletic director Dave Bradley said the petition to move was submitted Oct. 7.
According to AIA Associate Director Glen Treadaway, the AIA had not received Payson's petition by Wednesday, nor the signed documents the association requires from both the sending and receiving conferences.
Payson's petition, Bradley said, was in the hands of 4A conference representatives and would soon be sent to the AIA.
The decision to allow Payson, or any other petitioning school, to change conferences will be made officially at the AIA executive board's meeting Oct. 18.
"Schools have until Oct. 15 to submit their petitions and then they will be acted upon," Treadaway said.
Bradley said, however, he would unofficially know whether Payson was allowed to make the shift at an athletic directors and conference representatives meeting Oct. 14 (results not available at press time).
According to Treadaway, the decision to allow a school to move down a conference will be based on student population, number and level of varsity, jayvee and freshmen teams, competitive history, geography, number of game cancellations and loss of school time due to travel.
The student population criteria could weigh in Payson's favor since it is the smallest school in the 4A conference with 954 students -- just five more than the 3A maximum of 949.
The criteria of game cancellations also could help the Payson cause. Last season, the latter part of the junior varsity football schedule had to be canceled due to lack of players.
According to second-year football coach Jerry Rhoades, that same scenario might unfold again this season.
"At Monday's practice, we had only nine jayvees," he said. "It's going to be extremely difficult for us to finish out the (junior varsity) schedule."
Bradley has mixed feelings about returning to the 3A conference that Payson had been a member of from 1982 to 2002.
"In the 4A, there is a little bit more (public) exposure," he said. "It's a ‘big school conference.' But in 3A, we will be able to (better) compete for state and regional championships."
Rhoades predicts the move down "would be good for our kids. Mentally they want it."
Cross country and track and field coach Chuck Hardt would favor a move to 3A if it was to the East.
"We get along so good with (the coaches), it would be fine with us," he said.
AIA in a flip flop
In past years, the AIA took a hard-nosed stance about allowing schools to move down. One school threatened a lawsuit when the AIA refused to allow the school to move down.
This year, however, the AIA has softened its stance and is allowing programs to petition down one school-size classification.
Treadaway says he expects several other schools besides Payson to make such a request.
The petitioners could include Queen Creek (991), Monument Valley (995), Rio Rico (996) and Flagstaff Sinagua (1,022).
If Payson's petition is granted, the decision as to with which 3A region the Longhorns will be aligned would be made at the AIA executive board's Nov. 18 meeting, Treadaway said.
Although there are no guarantees, Bradley said he anticipates Payson would return to the East.
During its tenure in the 3A conference, Payson has been a member of the West, Central and East division.
Two 4A divisions?
If the AIA rejects Payson's petition, there is the possibility the school could still be aligned in a small-school division of the 4A conference.
Because the 4A conference is the largest in the state with more than 60 schools that range in student population from 950 to 1,899 students, the AIA will soon address a two-division realignment.
If that occurs, Payson would be placed in the small-school division along with schools that have enrollment figures closer to Payson's.
The proposed small-school division could include the likes of Buckeye (1,193), Mingus (1,237), Arcadia (1,284) Coronado (1,262) and Cortez (1,304).
The large school division could include Tucson Sahuaro (1,896), Tempe McClintock (1,890) and Sandra Day O'Connor (1,890).