Cross Country First To Experience Alignment Changes

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An Arizona Interscholastic Association radical realignment will do away with the current conference-region classifications and replace them with divisions that will be subdivided into sectionals.

While PHS coaches in most sports do not have to fret over the realignment until next season when they take place in all sports, cross country coach Jonathan Ball must immediately figure out how the new system will affect his teams.

That’s because the changes go into effect for individual sports, such as cross country, at the start of the 2010 season.

Ball says he will not know where the PHS teams have been aligned until a coaching clinic Aug. 21 at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in the Valley.

“At that time, it (divisional and sectional assignments) will be announced to all coaches in the state,” he said.

In the new system, the number of state cross country tournaments will be reduced from seven to four. Also, the state will be divided into four divisions of about 45 teams each.

Those divisions will each be subdivided into three sections comprised of 15 to 18 teams each.

Because the current 3A conference has only 29 schools, any division that includes those teams would have to be increased by about 16 other members.

This means some current 4A II schools and possibly some of the larger 2A schools would be added to the division.

Ball has studied the proposal in an effort to get a handle or where AIA officials might send the Longhorn teams.

The three sections of the state would include one that is Valley centered, another centered on the northern part of the state and a third with its home in the southern portion around Tucson.

Because Payson is located in dead center Arizona, the Longhorns could conceivably be aligned in any of the three sections, including Tucson.

Ball, however, believes Payson will go either to the North with the Flagstaff and reservation schools or to the South with the smaller Valley-area schools.

“I’d like to see us be in the South,” he said.

That’s totally understandable because the North, where the Hopi and

Navajo schools are located, is a hotbed of long distance running. Those schools have dominated Arizona cross country for decades. Ball believes the new division-section alignment will heighten competition for all prep teams.

“We are going to have to raise our game and develop our program,” he said. “In this (new alignment), 50 percent of the teams will go to state, but we don’t want to just go to state — we want to make some noise.”

While Ball won’t fully know the implications of the new alignment until division and section assignments are announced in three weeks, he’s going ahead with plans to begin early season practices on Aug. 9 at 3:30 p.m.

The good news in Longhorn land is that Ball is bringing back the popular Sludge to the Judge Run that was a huge part of homecoming festivities until it was disbanded two years ago.

“We’ll do it up just like coach (Chuck) Hardt did it,” Ball said.

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