New AIA alignment leaves many wondering
Several Verde Valley high school coaches explain how it affects their team moving forward
In Arizona, high school sports are organized by the Arizona Interscholastic Association ( AIA).
Schools are placed into divisions within the AIA based on a variety of factors.
Recently, the AIA announced the new regalement that will start next year. These placements are expected to last through the 2018-2019 school year.
For teams in the Verde Valley the realignment has been mixed. Some have gone up a division higher, some have stayed the same and some have moved up.
The AIA uses a very complicated formula in deciding which schools are placed in what division for each sport. The formula is a combination of student enrollment, the program's success over the past six years and the percent of students the school has on free and reduced lunch programs.
Perhaps the team in the Verde Valley most affected by the new alignment is Mingus girls soccer. Last year, the AIA had four divisions for soccer, three played in the winter and one played in the fall. The Marauders girls team was in Division III. Next year, the AIA will have five divisions, four will play in the winter and Mingus girls will be in Division II.
Head coach Buddy Rhodes said that the move will be a challenge for his team. But, Rhodes added that he still thinks his team can still compete.
"There are three teams in the new division that we beat last year," he said.
The Marauders will be Division II section V. The other schools in that section are, Centennial High School, Ironwood High School, Liberty High School, Mountain Ridge High School, Prescott High School, Raymond S. Kellis High School, Sunrise Mountain High School, Valley Vista High School and Willow Canyon High School.
"We'll keep being competitive," Rhodes said. "But, it's going to be a much more difficult task to be one of those top four teams."
In addition to the realignment, the makeup of the schedule is also different.
Last year there were 12 regular season games. Next year there will only be 10. Nine section games and only one freedom game.
Rhodes said that his team appealed to stay in Division III and was denied.
"I don't think they were targeting us specifically," he said. "The reason why we failed in our appeal is because we have been a successful team over the last year six years. They moved us up. I think someone could say we're getting punished for being successful for a period of time."
While the Marauders are being moved up, the two schools who made it farther in the Division III playoffs aren't. Those are Fountain Hills High School and the Division III state champions Walden Grove High School.
Camp Verde High School athletic director and girls basketball coach Mark Showers said he thinks the AIA has the right idea. But, is going about it the wrong way.
"I think the idea of making alignment more equitable is a good idea," Showers said. "But, the way the AIA did it by putting together a formula and using it without really testing it out I think was a mistake. One of the reasons I think it was a mistake is because they really didn't know how it was going to shape out. Like any alignment, there will be schools happy about it and schools that aren't happy about it. Because alignment has been based on enrollment since the start of the AIA, it's difficult for schools to deal with the idea of playing someone three or four times your size just because they haven't been successful at a higher division. A school of 1600 is maybe playing against a school of 400."
An example of this was last year Glendale High School was in Camp Verde's section for girls basketball despite a much larger student population.
Next year, the Cowboys will be in Division IV and Glendale will no longer be in their section. Camp Verde's new section will consist of, Chino Valley High School, Ganado High School, Hopi High School, Northland Preparatory Academy, Round Valley High School, Sedona Red Rock High School and St. Johns High School. Of those schools, Chino Valley, Sedona and Northland Prep were in Camp Verde's section last year.
Next year, Camp Verde will be in Division IV for most sports. But, the Cowboys boys and girls soccer teams will be in the fall Division IV and football will be in Division IV out of six divisions.
Showers said the AIA hasn't been clear in how it takes into consideration the formula of placing teams in into the divisions.
"The problem is we don't really know how much of the three criteria they value," he said. "We really don't know how it plays in. They place us somewhere and we have to decide where we would like to go. The problem with that is, because things are not balanced as far as where schools are located within the state, our travel is probably going to increase between 50-100 percent.
Showers' team will probably be hit hard on travel. The Cowboys new section includes three teams from Apache County.
Camp Verde football should also expect to travel a lot. Their new section includes Mohave Accelerated Learning Center in Bullhead City.
The new AIA realignment originally put Camp Verde football in Division IV.
But, the Cowboys won their appeal and will be in Division V section III.
The AIA's regalement has left some coaches wondering why some teams were placed where they were.
"It's not consistent," said Camp Verde football head coach Steve Darby. "You take a school like Wickenburg. They were 3-7 this year (2014 season), they were 1-9 last year (2013). They have really struggled recently. They have about 600 kids in their school. And they've been put into Division III. When they appealed, they were denied. They're playing schools as big as 2100 students."
An ongoing question with AIA is where to place the private schools.
Joy Christian High School in Glendale is in Camp Verde's section for football.
"The formula was supposed to match teams on the same competitive level," Darby said. "Joy Christian is a little higher competitively because of what they're allowed to do as far as putting players into their school. I'm not real happy with them being in our Division or our section."
Darby added that the AIA changed what it said it would do.
"The AIA voted and approved that all private schools would move up one division," he said. "That was approved until they decided to do a new formula. Joy Christian was put in Division IV. They appealed and were put back into Division V."
The Cowboys are currently in their own appeal. The team is set to be in Division V section III. Sedona was placed in Division V section VII. Camp Verde has appealed to be placed in that section. That appeal will be decided later this month.
Mingus head football and baseball coach Bob Young said his teams are where they should be. In baseball, the Marauders will be in Division III section I. That section includes, Page High School, Payson High School, Prescott High School, Show Low High School, Snow Flake High School and Winslow High school.
For Mingus football, it is in Division III section VII. Its sectional opponents are, Arcadia High School, Cactus Shadows High School, Coconino High School, Flagstaff High School and Notre Dame (Scottsdale) Preparatory High School.
"I'm not really concern about all that stuff, I'm just worried about us more than anything else," Young said. "Football, not a lot is going to change. Baseball is going to change a little bit. The Schools are a little bit more our size."
Next year, baseball will go from four to five divisions. Young said he agrees with that.
"The way it is right now, baseball, softball, basketball all have four divisions," he said. "In Division II baseball there are about 60 schools. There are schools with enrollment of 2500 all the way down to under 1000. I think adding another division really helps it out."
Mingus head boys soccer coach Calvin Behlow has mixed feelings about where his team is next season.
The Marauders are in Division III section I.
"The boys stayed in Division III where they belong," Behlow said. "They have been competitive for the last two years. But, not the last six. We're graduating a lot of seniors. So I don't see us being a powerhouse. We're going to have to work really hard to maintain the type of soccer we've been playing."
He said he agrees with having four divisions in the winter.
"It lets me play more teams with a JV program," he said. "It lets my JV team get more than six or 7 games."
But, he said he sees some negatives with the placement.
"We are in a very strong section," Behlow said. "Our section has 10 teams. We only play 10 games next year. Nine against section teams. Not a lot of freedom games. Our section has five former Division II teams. We have a very strong section if it stays the way it is."
For Mingus boys basketball, it will be in Division III section IV. Moving into that section with the Marauders is Cortez High School. Cortez has been a very strong program in recent years. Flagstaff won the Marauders section last year. It will be in Division II next year.
Travel might be a little easier for the Marauders. Mohave High School in Bullhead City has been taken out of Mingus' section.
Mingus boys basketball head coach David Berry said his team's section will be tough.
"You have Cortez who has been a powerhouse in basketball," Beery said. "You also have Glendale and Washington. I don't know if it did us a whole lot of favors. There are some sections with 12 teams and there some sections with five teams. I don't know what the AIA is trying to achieve. But, it's what we have for the next few years."
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