The Arizona Interscholastic Association has released its initial section placement for the upcoming two-year scheduling block and in some sports the reconfiguration looks a lot like the former 3A East Region.
For example, in football Payson High School will be aligned in Division III, Section V with several teams, including Blue Ridge, Show Low and Snowflake, which were fellow members of the 3A East with PHS before conferences and regions were dissolved two years ago.
Also in the reconfiguration, Fountain Hills and Globe have been assigned to Section V making it a six-team alignment.
Football coach Jake Swartwood is excited about returning to play the formidable East teams that once formed the most competitive football region in Arizona.
“I love it man,” he said. “Getting back to the Beasts of the East — rivalries, good competition year in and out. Gonna be tough to make the playoffs, but we’ll be legit.”
In cross country, the AIA has placed the Longhorns in a Valley-area section removing the PHS boys and girls teams from the northern Arizona reservations-dominated section they were members of the past two seasons.
As members of Division III, Section III the next two school years, Payson will be pitted against the likes of Apache Junction, Buckeye, Tempe, Seton Catholic, St. Mary’s and Glendale Cortez.
The placement should benefit the Longhorn runners because they will no longer have to qualify for the state finals against the highly talented reservation teams where long distance running is a way of life.
In baseball and softball, both teams have been assigned to Division III, Section II along with other northern Arizona schools including Show Low, Snowflake, Blue Ridge, Round Valley, Alchesay, Blue Ridge, Winslow and others.
While that alignment is similar to the former 3A East, placing Payson in a southern Arizona section would have allowed the Longhorn teams to play spring games in much better weather conditions.
It isn’t unusual for baseball and softball games in Lakeside be canceled due to snow — sometimes blizzard-like conditions.
Former Payson High School principal and baseball coach Tom Meck’s advice during any school realignment was for the Longhorns to “go south” which remains sound logic when involving spring sports.
In volleyball, the Lady Horns will become members of Division III Section IV that also includes some Valley area schools including Thunderbird, Scottsdale Saguaro, Moon Valley and Glendale Cortez.
Those so-called “big school” teams will have a definite pupil population advantage over PHS, a school that has an enrollment of 750.
Thunderbird has 1,503 pupils and is the largest in the section. Moon Valley’s enrollment is 1,472, Saguaro has 1,346 students and the Cortez student body is 1,189.
Blue Ridge, Show Low and Snowflake have also been assigned to Section IV keeping alive some of the 3A East rivalries that have kindled many fond memories among former PHS athletes.
In wrestling, PHS will be in D-III, S-I with Blue Ridge, Flagstaff, Coconino, Page, Mingus, Winslow and others.
In the section, Mingus is one of the most formidable foes, having produced some of the state’s finest teams and individual wrestlers when the Marauders were members of the now-defunct 4A conference.
Lady Longhorn basketball coach Jennifer White says she has not had sufficient time to reflect on the girls’ placement in D-III, S-IV, but the hoop team will be traveling south for some games against the likes of Globe, Miami and San Carlos.
Powerhouse Winslow, a team that has dominated the state girls hoop scene for decades, is also a member of the section, rendering it one of the toughest in the division.
Coach Joe Sanchez’s boys basketball team is aligned in the same division and section, and will play the same schools as the Lady Horns.
San Carlos’ and Miami’s placement in D-III is unusual because both school’s enrollment is just over 300 students, or less than half what some other schools have enrolled.
At first glance it would seem San Carlos and Miami would be better suited for D-IV where pupil counts are smaller.
School administrators dissatisfied with their team’s placement have until Jan. 10, 2013 to appeal their section alignment to the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
Payson High School AD Don Heizer has not indicated whether he will appeal any of the PHS teams’ placements, but is in the process of receiving feedback from head coaches.
The AIA Executive Board will hear appeals on Jan. 22, 2013 and expects to announce the final placements the following day.