The spring high school sports calendar was already very busy a couple years ago. This year it got busier with the addition of two sanctioned sports in girls and boys lacrosse.
Competitive cheerleading was also approved as a sanctioned winter sport by the UHSAA Board of Trustees earlier this year, with its first state tournament to be held in the 2022-23 school year.
Those three might not be the last new sanctioned sports in Utah. Along with cheerleading, the BOT didn’t approve a motion to sanction boys volleyball and tabled a motion to sanction esports, with one board member citing a lack of personnel at individual schools to supervise sporting events as a reason.
That’s exactly why there needs to be a pause on sanctioning new high school sports, at least until a few major things change.
It’s nothing against boys volleyball and esports, which are both very popular in the club levels, as well as any other sport that might be up for sanctioning soon.
It’s about stressing the pool of school administrators and athletic directors, who are typically quite tired once the spring part of the school year rolls around. There’s major stress on the whole system — athletic trainers, ticketing, transportation, etc. — that became more pronounced with the addition of lacrosse.
Home or away, there’s a school administrator or athletic director there for event supervision at every golf tournament, tennis match, baseball game, soccer game, track meet, lacrosse game and softball game. There’s an athletic trainer at every game everywhere, as are school buses (away teams have to get to their games somehow).
Once things get rolling in March, the weekly calendars are full: one track meet, one golf tournament, two soccer games, 2-3 baseball games, 2-3 softball games, 1-2 tennis matches and 4-6 lacrosse games on top of all the other normal school functions.
Schools love that their students can compete in sports, but admins and ADs have said publicly and privately they can’t handle any more on the spring calendar.
At Weber High, for example, the turf field this spring was shared by the track teams, the lacrosse teams and the boys soccer team, the latter of which didn’t play a home game on its grass soccer field.
It’s a scheduling nightmare trying to balance practices and games for five different sports that can rarely share the turf at the same time.
Or, as one area athletic director termed it to me in conversation one day, “nine freaking sports.”
So what’s the solution?
There are some, including changing some sports to the fall, expanding the pool of admins and ADs to better cover the more sports, and tweaking schedules.
A CALENDAR CHANGE?
There are technically 10 sanctioned spring sports in Utah high school athletics: baseball, softball, girls golf, boys and girls track and field, boys and girls lacrosse, boys tennis, boys soccer and 1A boys golf.
It’s twice as many as the winter (5) and nearly 50% more than the fall (7).
Switching a spring sport to the winter isn’t enviable because spring sports are weather-dependent and, for now, Utah winters are cold, snowy and not accepting to outdoor sports.
So the only real move that could be made is moving a spring sport to the fall. Girls golf and boys tennis are the most logical sports that could move to the fall.
The weather from early August to early October is ideal for both tennis and golf, and players can go transition right from the club summer season to the school season.
Space at golf courses — the amount of area golf courses has decreased by two in the past few years — would be the biggest issue with doubling the amount of high school golfers in season, since the summer and fall are the peak times for the thousands of other people around here who golf.
It’s the same thing with tennis. Most schools have 3-4 tennis courts that are full to the brim in the fall and spring. Doubling the number of tennis players and not increasing the number of courts wouldn’t be a good idea.
The UHSAA pitched the idea to boys soccer about moving to the fall, and most of the completed surveys sent to schools and districts came back saying they wanted to leave boys soccer in the spring.
It makes some sense to move boys soccer to the fall — as it does to move one or both lacrosse seasons — but facilities would be a problem again because you’re competing for turf time with girls soccer and football, the latter of which has coaches who can get strangely territorial about the turf field during their season.
Sooner or later, the BOT is going to have to move a sport to the fall and then let the facilities question figure itself out later.
Otherwise, it’s time for school districts to open the wallet.
In theory, allocating funding to make athletic directors full time (at schools where they aren’t) or get some additional help makes sense. If the number of high school sports has increased over the years, shouldn’t the personnel, too?
Realistically, schools would need at least one additional administrator, athletic director or supervisor-equivalent to help supervise all these games and take stress off admin teams that have to go to pretty much every little thing in the spring, even if it’s unnecessary (what’s going to happen at a golf tournament that requires a principal instead of a golf coach or golf course employee, anyway?).
At the end of the day, this is a people problem in that there’s not enough people and the current admin/AD groups are going to get burned out faster going forward.
What happens when people get burned out? They quit, and then school districts have to spend time and money hiring more people because they keep losing good people, something that already happens in the teacher ranks.
Add more people, solve the problem.
If we’re talking a new full-time employee, at bare minimum that’s a five-figure cost for school districts who are more inclined to use that money to add a new teacher or put it toward teacher raises.
School districts, especially the huge suburban ones in the state, could make it work if they really wanted to.
Here’s another idea, then: try to organize the sports calendar so that more events are in the same place on the same day, so that you don’t have five people or teams in five different spots on any given day.
For example, one could have 2-3 Bonneville teams host 2-3 Box Elder teams on the same day, or vice versa.
Most schools can — and some already do this sometimes — host 3-5 games simultaneously, albeit not always against teams from the same school. It might not solve the entire problem, but it might make things easier once the season gets to the business end of things.
It would take a ton of coordination, but it’s not something that can’t at least be explored.