Realignment Makes For A Tough Road

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High Schools with smaller enrollments — like Sanders (338), St. Johns, (342) Morenci (360) and Thatcher (400) — are going to find it extremely rough to win a state basketball championship under the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s new Division-Section alignment that next year will replace the region-conference format that has been used for decades.

The small schools, which include Payson (788), will find competing on the state or division level tough because AIA bigwigs have aligned them in Division III along with some schools with enrollments of 1,000-plus.

In Division III are Rio Rico (1,236), Cortez (1,225), Buckeye (1,206), Salpointe Catholic (1,150) and Tucson Santa Rita (1,115).

It’s no secret in high school sports circles that schools with larger enrollments often field more talented teams than their smaller counterparts because the so-called “big schools” have larger student bodies from which to draw student athletes.

So, if a team like Thatcher happens to meet up with Salpointe in the state (division) tournament, the smaller school will be at a severe disadvantage.

There could be some schools among those assigned to Division III who will petition the AIA to move up to Division I or II.

For example, Phoenix St. Mary’s has been aligned in Division III because of its enrollment of 602.

But for years, the Knights have been a member of the 5A conference and competed successfully.

St. Mary’s officials might want their teams to continue to compete against the larger schools in metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson. If so, the school will petition up.

All of the current 3A East schools, Payson, Alchesay, Snowflake, Show Low and Blue Ridge, have been aligned in D-III.

When the assignment of schools to divisions was approved by the AIA Executive Board on Oct. 18, the process began all over again with the placement of schools in sections from their respective divisions.

Sectional placements will be announced today, Dec. 7, after the appeals were heard.

The division-section placements will begin for team sports in 2011 and be valid for a two-year block.

The AIA-mandated alignment for individual sports began at the onset of the 2010 cross country season when the former conference classification was replaced with divisions that were then subdivided into sections.

In cross country, Payson was placed in Division III along with 46 other teams, some of which are former 4A schools.

From Division III, Payson was aligned in the 17-team Section II.

In wrestling, Payson was placed in Division III and then aligned in the 17-team Section II.

The troubling issue with PHS being placed in Division III is that the school, with its 788 students, will compete for statewide honors against much larger schools.

For example, also in the division with Payson High are Paradise Valley (1,603), Greenway (1,600), Thunderbird (1,561) and Mohave (1,551).

Longhorn coach Casey Woodall is not shying away from the challenge of competing against “big schools” saying the division-placement alignment was long overdue.

Next year, Payson’s placement in team sports might be similar to what occurred in cross country and wrestling.

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