MIDVALE — Every time the Utah High School Activities Association realigns its classifications and regions, officials grapple with balancing competing interests and issues that range from the distances some schools are forced to travel and whether schools should be classified based solely on population.
Wednesday night the UHSAA’s Board of Trustees held a public hearing on a proposal that would split the state’s 146 schools into six classifications. The BOT heard from a handful of school officials and a concerned parent, but the bulk of feedback came in the form of written comments collected over the last month.
The six-class proposal, which was adopted in football two years ago, has been championed by some 2A and 3A schools as a way to create a more fair situation for schools facing competition with competitors that are anywhere from two to five times bigger.
The six-classification proposal reduces the ratio from smallest to largest, especially at the 1A level, which would be a 3.53 ratio with 21 schools. Interestingly, the written feedback from the state’s smallest schools was almost overwhelmingly opposed to the change.
A letter from the San Juan School District’s Debbie Christiansen said, “As the details begin to emerge on the recommendation, we are afraid that the schools in southeast Utah will be gutted by the new proposal.”
Currently, the 1A schools play in a region made up of six schools in the southeast area. The new proposal would split the schools into three classifications with three 1A schools – Monument Valley, Navajo Mountain and Green River, three 2A schools (Pinnacle, Monticello and Whitehorse) and three 3A schools (San Juan, Grand and Emery).
Every letter from those school communities spoke against the change. The proposed plan would likely create 500-mile one-way trips for some schools, and some fear it would mean the end of those schools being able to participate in sanctioned regions.
Some schools supported the extra classification, even citing how well it seems to have worked in football.
"This will make our sports programs more competitive and I believe more students will be willing to come out for sports when they do not have to compete against schools more than twice their size," said Kanab girls basketball coach Kaden Glazier.
There were a number of other issues mentioned in the emails. Some support the measure, as they see it as a way to make classifications more competitive from top to bottom.
Others, like the Davis District, opposed the proposal, even submitting a chart that compared the number of schools in Utah and how they are classified with neighboring states.
Of those states (Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, Nebraska, Indiana, Washington, Oklahoma and North Carolina), Utah would have the smallest number of schools per classification at 24.
Idaho and Nevada came closest to Utah’s situation with an average of 31 for Idaho and 30 for Nevada.
Idaho has 157 schools with five classifications while Nevada has 59 schools with two classifications.
“Due to what we feel is a “watering down” of state championship competitions, we have an overall concern (about) the expansion of classifications,” the Davis District wrote.
BOT chairman Bill Boyle said he sees some significant problems with the six-classification proposal, especially for the state’s smallest schools.
“Utah already has the smallest classifications and we’re dividing that number by six now instead of five,” he said. “At some point in time, and particularly in the smallest classifications, you need to have a critical mass in order to have competition.”
Many of the written comments — as well as the comments from those who attended Wednesday’s hearing — asked the UHSAA’s BOT to address the issue of private and charter schools that compete against smaller, rural schools. Some asked officials to look at placing them in their own league or class while others suggested schools without boundaries play up a division.
Two private schools already play up one classification larger than their numbers would allow – Judge and Layton Christian. And when those schools requested to move to the larger classification, administrators said they were trying to quell any harsh feelings or perceptions of unfairness.
The BOT will discuss the proposal and feedback in their Thursday meeting. They could take any number of actions, including approving the change to six classes. Right now the classes are aligned on 2014 enrollment numbers, but the final proposal — whether it’s five classes or six — would use October 2016 enrollment numbers.
There will be one more public hearing on any new alignment and a second vote —after which schools will be given a permanent class and region.