After Realignment, East Region Reduced To Six Schools

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An Arizona Interscholastic Association-mandated realignment of the 3A conference left the East region as the smallest in the state.

In the most recent AIA repositioning of teams, which occurs every two years, Holbrook was allowed to leave the East to join the North region.

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The new region breakdown is especially dire in football because, with only five region teams, athletic directors must come up with five non-region games to fill a complete 10-game schedule.

Which means, the East now has just six teams -- Alchesay, Blue Ridge, Round Valley, Show Low, Snowflake and Payson.

Next school year, the South will be the largest region in the 3A conference, with eight teams, including newcomer Empire. The region also received Maricopa, which moved up to the 3A ranks from 2A.

The West and the North will have seven teams.

The North, which is comprised mostly of northern Arizona reservation schools, changed only with the addition of Holbrook, which has bounced back and through the years, from North to East. The West picked up South Pointe High, a charter school, located in South Phoenix.

Empire, the other high school new to the 3A ranks, is located in the Vail Unified District in Tucson and boasts that its students receive laptop computers in place of textbooks.

Big headache

The reduction of the East to six teams has created an unexpected hardship for region athletic directors.

In scheduling games, athletic directors must scour the state to find opponents to fill in the vacancies created by the loss of Holbrook to the North.

The situation is especially dire in football because, with only five region teams, athletic directors must come up with five non-region games to fill a complete 10-game schedule.

Payson High School assistant principal Tim Fruth, who on July 1 turned over the athletic director position to Jason Lobik, believes the Longhorns came dangerously close to having to settle for a nine-game football schedule.

"(Football coach Josh Anderson) knew someone in Bradshaw Mountain, so we were finally able to fill our schedule by adding them," he said.

Anderson, in his second year at the helm of the Longhorn program, first approached the Mesa School District, which is made up of 5A teams, about filling in the PHS schedule.

"I was trying to get a junior game with Mesa Mountain View, when I found out Bradshaw Mountain had an open date, so we went with them," he said.

Other schools around the region haven't been as fortunate as PHS in filling a full schedule.

Among those are Blue Ridge and Round Valley high schools, where athletic directors are scrambling to find non-region or non-conference games.

"Some are even talking about going out of state, possibly as far away as Oklahoma for games," Fruth said.

By picking up Bradshaw Mountain, a 4A school, the Horns dodged a bullet, filling in a crucial Sept. 21 vacancy date, a week before a for-all-the-marbles streak of five East games.

With Blue Ridge now on the schedule, Anderson will have an additional tuneup game to prepare his players for a run of East region honors and a berth into the state tournament. Most high school football coaches abhor open dates in the middle of the season, saying it allows young players to lose focus.

"I hate (open dates)," Anderson said. "Two weeks without a game is not good."

Other non-region opponents on the Longhorn football schedule include Fountain Hills (Aug. 24), Winslow (Aug. 31), Florence (Sept. 7), Chino Valley (Sept. 14) and Bradshaw.

In volleyball, the reduction of the East to six teams hasn't been a hindrance, mostly because the Lady Horns have non-region games with Florence, Sedona, Winslow, Fountain Hills, Globe and Valley Christian. The team also has three tournaments -- Payson, Coconino and Chino Valley Invitationals --- to help fill in a full complement of games.

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