East sports were assigned its own particular configuration when the Arizona Interscholastic Association replaced the decades-old conference-region prep sports format with a division-section alignment.
That’s unusual in Arizona prep sports where all teams from one school have almost always played common opponents.
PHS football next year will be in Division IV, Section III along with 18 other teams including Coolidge, Scottsdale Coronado, Empire, Globe and Florence.
But in boys cross country, PHS is aligned in Division III, Section I with teams like Chinle, Holbrook, Chino Valley, Monument Valley and Page.
In boys basketball the Longhorns are in Division III, Section III with Bourgade Catholic, Buckeye, River Valley, Scottsdale Christian, Wickenburg and others.
The Lady Longhorn volleyball team will play in Division II, Section I with some of the same teams that make up the 3A East Region including Show Low, Snowflake and Blue Ridge.
The PHS baseball team has been assigned to Division III, Section I where the team will square off against some of the former East Region schools as well as reservation teams like Tuba City, Ganado, Greyhills, Many Farms and Monument Valley.
That alignment announcement has to make former PHS baseball coach, athletic director and principal Tom Meck cringe because his position on any realignment involving Payson High was to be placed in southern regions where weather was warmer, especially in the spring months.
Going north for games was a last resort for Meck.
The new configuration could spell the end to ages-old rivalries like Blue Ridge vs. Show Low or Round Valley vs. St. Johns if they are assigned to different divisions or sections.
Another unique aspect of the new configuration is that in each division, which includes about 50 teams, some teams will be forced to play opponents with much larger student body counts.
The PHS baseball squad, which represents a school of 778 students, is assigned to play in Division III and could possibly face in division or “state” tournaments Coronado (enrollment; 1,295), Mingus, (1,260), Palo Verde Magnet (1,255), Sabino (1,253) or Rio Rico (1,236).
Even more lopsided is that Benson, with its 380 students, is also in D-III.
This year in the conference-region format, Benson competes in the “small school” 2A ranks against other small schools with similar student body counts like Morenci, Williams, St. Johns and Bisbee.
Coaches around the state agree that the new configuration will make winning a division or “state” championship doubly tough on the former small schools that have the misfortune of being aligned against much larger high schools.
The revamped alignment took place this year in individual sports such as cross country and wrestling. Next school year all team sports will compete in the division-region format.
When the new design was made public, the AIA gave schools the right to appeal. Final decisions on those will be announced today, Jan. 18.
Payson High School did not appeal any of its placements.