The almost year-long process of aligning high school teams, by sport, into the new division-section configuration from the conference-region format is finally complete.
Eliminating all 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A conference labels and replacing them with division and sectional competition is an Arizona Interscholastic Association effort to cut down on the number of state tournaments, reduce travel time, cut expenses and possibly hack away at the number of classes student-athletes miss.
In football the number of state championships has been reduced from seven to six, the number of state tournament softball games will fall to close to 100 from 179 and the number of golf courses needed for state finals will drop to three from the 30-plus needed last year.
Similar cost-cutting changes will take place in most other sports.
The reconfiguration process geared up in August with the AIA executive board approving division assignments for all member schools.
Following those, the executive board heard appeals from athletic directors unsatisfied with their schools’ assignments. Most appeals were later granted.
In November, the division placements were finalized.
Just weeks later, the entire process began over again with the initial placement of schools into sections.
Schools had until Jan. 6, 2011 to appeal their section placement.
Several schools, including Payson in baseball and softball, appealed and on Jan. 19 the executive board approved all requests.
For Payson High that meant the baseball and softball teams could move to Division III, Section III from Division III, Section I where the Horns were originally assigned. In Section I, PHS would have had to play reservation teams like Tuba City, Ganado, Grey Hills, Many Farms and Monument Valley.
But in Section III, the team will be aligned against mostly Valley area schools including Bourgade Catholic, Buckeye, Estrella Foothills, Scottsdale Christian and others.
The change will most likely be a huge plus for the baseball and softball teams because they will not be forced to travel north to the reservation schools where spring weather can be biting cold and sometimes snowy.
In the Valley, the Horns will play in warmer temperatures and against better competition than the North where baseball and softball can be an afterthought to basketball and cross country.
PHS athletic director Rob Varner said he decided to appeal to the AIA after considering “economics based on mileage and transportation, student time out of class and wear and tear on buses traveling over the Rim.”
The new system is inevitably confusing and will take time to absorb partly because it could mean the end to some ages old rivalries.
In football, for example, Payson is the only former 3A East Region team aligned in Division IV, Section II.
Which means, the Longhorns will no longer play in the regular season longtime rivals Show Low, Snowflake and Blue Ridge.
Rather in Section II, PHS will play some teams they have not met in decades including Wickenburg, Glendale Cortez and Buckeye.
Also, there are two teams in the section, North Pointe Preparatory and River Valley, Payson has never met on the gridiron.
Although it will seem strange for PHS football players to travel south for games rather than East over the Rim as they have done for decades, coach Byron Quinlan is satisfied with the team’s placement.
“I like the fact we will travel south to play Valley schools; that will save travel time,” he said. “I think it will be a nice change of pace for our program to face some new opponents.”
If there is a PHS sports program that will find the going extremely tough in the new alignment it’s the volleyball team.
In Division III Section I, the Lady Longhorns must continue to face its former rough and tumble rivals from the 3A East as well as the Northern Arizona reservation schools that formerly comprised the 3A North.
That region has long been considered the most competitive in the state, continually producing state championship teams and often placing three schools in the state tournament’s final four.
PHS coach Arnold Stonebrink has not expressed any concerns about the placement saying he’s looking forward to the heightened competition.
Both the boys and girls cross country teams will also find going tough in D-III, Section I because it also houses the reservation teams that annually field some of the best long distance runners and finest teams in Arizona.
Before the division-section assignments were announced, cross country coach Jonathan Ball said he was hoping to be placed in one of the south sections, but those hopes were quickly dashed.
PHS placements by sport are:
• Boys cross country — D-III, Section I
• Girls cross country — D-III, Section I
• Football — D-IV, Section III
• Boys soccer — D-IV, Section III
• Girls soccer — D-IV, Section III
• Volleyball — D-III, Section I
• Boys basketball — D-III, Section III
• Girls Basketball — D-III, Section III
• Spirit Line — D-III, No section assigned
• Wrestling — D-III, Section I
• Baseball — D-III, Section III
• Softball — D-III, Section III
• Golf — D III, No section assigned
• Boys track and field — D-III, No section assigned
• Girls track and field — D-III, No section assigned