Aia Gives Blessing To Payson's 3a Return

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The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board -- meeting Monday in Phoenix -- approved Payson High School's move from the 4A to the 3A conference.

PHS school officials petitioned Oct. 7 for PHS to drop a school size classification mostly because its enrollment was on the cusp of 3A maximum and 4A minimum.

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Ryan Buchanan (81) shows the heartbreak of Friday's 35-13 loss to the Mingus Marauders. Next year, the Longhorn football team will probably compete in the 3A conference and will not be playing Mingus, a 4A school.

Payson's is the smallest school in 4A with 954 students -- just five more than the 3A maximum of 949.

Following the submission of the petition to the AIA, Dave Bradley, PHS athletic director, met Oct. 14 in Phoenix with administrators from both conferences.

After submitting his plea for changing conferences, 3A officials voted to accept Payson and 4A administrators released the school from its ranks.

According to AIA Associate Director Glen Treadaway, the release and acceptance were critical for the Executive Board to approve Payson's move.

Other appeals that were formally granted at the Monday meeting were to: San Luis, from 4A to 5A; Tucson Salpointe, 4A to 5A; Phoenix St. Mary's, 3A to 5A; Notre Dame Prep, 3A to 4A; and Monument Valley, 4A to 3A.

Appeals to move down from 5A to 4A from Paradise Valley, Tucson Sunnyside and Phoenix Shadow Mountain were denied by the AIA board.

Now that Payson's shift has been approved, Bradley and school officials must await the results of the Executive Board's Nov. 18 meeting to find out in which region the AIA will place Payson.

Although there are no guarantees, Bradley anticipates Payson will return to the East.

"That would cut travel and time out of school," he said.

Payson spent many seasons in the East after it entered the 3A ranks in 1982 until it departed in 2002.

While in the East, strong rivalries developed between the Longhorns and other regional teams including Snowflake, Show Low, Round Valley, Holbrook, Blue Ridge and Alchesay.

Payson's return to the East, would rekindle those rivalries.

While a 3A member, the school was also aligned in the West and now-defunct Central regions.

"We've always been an orphan, always moving," Bradley said.

This school year there are 33 schools in five 3A regions -- East, North, South No. 1, South No. 2 and West.

Next year, because there are several 3A schools who could move up to 4A or down to 2A, the regional alignments could be much different.

The schools that could shift to 4A from 3A include Higley (1140 students), Monument Valley (1004) and Tuba City (1016).

Rapidly growing school districts like Estrella Foothills (820), Fountain Hills (896) and Queen Creek (805) could also gain enough students to surpass the 3A maximum.

The 3A schools that could move down to 2A because of enrollments near the small school cutoff of 449 students include Pinon (442), Willcox (472) and Camp Verde (457).

With the regional alignment bound to change, Payson's 3A regional assignment for next year is an unknown.

In placing the Longhorns in a region, the AIA executive committee and conference representatives make their decisions based on time out of school for athletics and travel time between member schools, Treadaway said.

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