Some Like, Others Dislike, New High School Divisions

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The Arizona Interscholastic Association mandated switch from the conference-region configuration to a division-section alignment is sure to change the dynamics of high school sports, especially in Payson High football.

Among the first to notice the changes was golf coach Bret Morse, also the football team’s offensive coordinator.

Midway through last golf season he said the new alignment had done away with some of the storied rivalries that had built up over the years as the Longhorns traveled around Arizona for matches.

The change from region-conference to division-section began last season for individual sports like golf, wrestling and cross-country and will go into effect next year for the team sports such as football and basketball.

Coaches and players in team sports learned of the realignment last spring, but only recently were able to view next year’s schedules and the changes that accompany them.

The AIA released the new schedules on July 1.

Some coaches are looking forward to the new alignment others are opposed.

PHS football coach Byron Quinlan says he likes the idea of playing teams other than the East Region foes the Longhorns had scheduled for the past two decades.

Wrestling coach Casey Woodall says the change will amp up the competition making sectional and division championships doubly meaningful.

Other coaches around the state, like Morse, have bemoaned the dearth of regions and conferences saying it put an end to traditional rivalries that are such a big part of high school sports.

Another widely heard concern is that the divisional-sectional alignment is basically unfair to some smaller schools because they are being forced to play schools with much larger enrollments from which to draw athletes.

St. Johns might be one of the smaller schools most affected by the change in configuration.

The school has an enrollment of 342 students and last year was a 2A North Region member.

But next year, St. Johns will play all the former 3A East teams including Show Low, Snowflake and Blue Ridge.

Blue Ridge has an enrollment of 873 or almost three times larger than St. Johns. Snowflake has 739 students and Show Low’s enrollment is 777.

Another complaint being sounded on campuses around the state is that schedules are now computer generated by the AIA so there is little input from coaches.

The real changes in next year’s fall sports will be in the teams Payson plays now that the AIA has assigned PHS to Division 4, Section 3.

Under the region-conference format, Blue Ridge, Snowflake, Round Valley, Show Low and Alchesay were fellow East members and consequently on the Horns’ schedule in most every sport. With the realignment, those former East schools are now in football’s Division 4, Section 1.

In football next season, Show Low is the only former rival the Horns have scheduled.

Which means the Snowflake vs. Payson rivalry and the one that’s gained steam over the years between Payson and Blue Ridge are dead in the water. Even Round Valley and PHS had a competitive enmity going, especially last year when the two schools met in football’s regular season and in the playoffs.

Another dynamics change is that next season’s football schedule features two schools the Horns have never before played — River Valley and Scottsdale Coronado.

In volleyball, Coach Arnold Stonebrink’s Lady Longhorns will not notice a great change because they will continue to play Snowflake, Show Low and Blue Ridge. All four schools were assigned to Division 3 Section 1.

Both PHS soccer teams were aligned in Division 4, Section 3, along with Thunderbird Adventist Academy, Phoenix Country Day, Camp Verde and Verde Valley School.

The former East Region schools now reside in Division 4, Section 1.

Cross-country schedules have not yet been released.

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