Last Friday was a good day, not only because it was Week 6 of the high school football season and marquee matchups were every which way, but because, at places like McClintock, the past few seasons of on-field woes might actually lead to a brighter future.
The research and homework is underway after Friday, when the AIA Legislative Council approved a bylaw which allows schools to petition down a division in competition beginning with next fall’s two-year scheduling block. It could be an entire school’s athletic department, or specific sport.
The Chargers — in football, and athletic director Susan Edwards noted sports such as baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball and golf — have started to put together “cases” for sports should the school wind up in Division II again based on its enrollment numbers.
Lo and behold, the likes of a McClintock, Westwood, Dobson and Mesquite of the East Valley high school landscape have a chance again.
How many schools make such an attempt in a given sport remains to be seen, though it doesn’t seem likely dozens of appeals will (or should) line up. Winning a possible appeal is also another matter, but the AIA Legislative Council adopted a list of criteria “the appealing school may use as a general guideline” when offering its case to the AIA Executive Board.
As outlined in the Sept. 28 AIA Legislative Council meeting minutes, it includes the number and level of teams in a given sport at a given school, enrollment numbers the past four years, win-loss record and power points finish for the past three years, school location, percentage or number of kids who need some form of financial assistance and “any other information considered important by the appealing school or Executive Board.”
McClintock, for example, is currently 6-20 since 2010, has 35 kids on varsity and cancelled three JV games this season because injuries forced kids up to varsity. The Chargers play Phoenix South Mountain on Friday, followed by Marcos de Niza, Notre Dame and Perry. The Chargers have not been among the bottom 5 schools in Division II power rankings the past couple season, but Chargers coach Matt Lewis believes that’s a byproduct of strength-of-schedule power points, not because of wins.
“I’ll play anybody on the schedule but sure like to have teams we can really compete with,” he said. “It builds interest and kids come out instead of checking out by Week 6.
“... All I want is a competitive situation. We’re not going down to dominate, we’re going down to not get blown out. Let’s get our program healthy. We’re doing some things right but we’re without enough kids for depth. It’s like going into a gun fight with knives.”
Since the verdict reached is only a few days old, many schools, whether competitively, participation numbers, socio-economic reasons, or all of the above, haven’t discussed its hopeful future placement.
Count Dobson and Westwood among them. Among the East Valley’s oldest and largest schools in Division I, the struggles of both football programs (and a few other sports as well) are well-documented in the past decade. Dobson, 1-5 so far this season under new coach George De La Torre, is 8-29 since 2009.
De La Torre said no such appeals process has been brought up by staff or administration (at school or district level). His hope is to have such conversations after the season and see if it intertwines in both his and the school’s “five-year plan” he put together when hired by the school.
Noting the school only has one full junior high as a feeder school (Rhodes Junior High) and a handful of kids from others (Summitt), “The future when it comes to numbers might be a big question mark,” he said.
The future has been dismal at Coronado girls basketball for the better part of the past decade, whether in the old 4A Division II or currently in Division II. Desert Ridge’s girls basketball team was 2-26 last season, even though the Jaguars won 20 games the previous two seasons.
“I think it can be good, if done for the right reasons,” Desert Ridge athletic director Darrell Stangle wrote in an email. “I look at our situation in our girls basketball program. We could use a step back, even if just for a two-year block to try to get the ship on the right course. It did wonders for our football program, when they created 5A-II and we formed the Pima Region. That move gave us a break from playing Hamilton and Chandler, etc. for a couple of years so we could have some success and gain some momentum. When we moved back into the largest division, we had a full head of steam.”
That sounds a lot like McClintock’s plan of action moving forward. The Chargers are confident they can succeed with appeals if it becomes necessary. In high school-level competition, sometimes victory lies in simply having a fair chance to have a fair chance.
“Sometimes you can be on the right track and nothing happens because you struggle for every win,” said Lewis, referring to more than just football programs. “Being able to have the option to appeal means you can be in a situation where you can better compete and generate wins, and that generates interest, enthusiasm and more kids participating. The only thing we’re lacking is wins on the field and this can help propel a program forward.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.