The UHSAA Board of Trustees approved Utah’s high school sports realignment for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years during a Thursday meeting that will bring notable changes to schools both local and statewide for the next two years — as well as signaling big changes that would impact how future realignment is decided.
The changes for new alignments involving local schools are:
n Roy, in 6A, is moving from Region 1 to Region 2, per a request the school made Wednesday.
n Ben Lomond and Ogden are moving from the 4A classification to 3A Region 13.
n Northridge, a longtime Region 1 school and on the bubble by enrollment, chose to move from 6A down to 5A Region 5, switching places with Farmington which is moving up to Region 1.
n Layton Christian moves up a classification to 3A Region 13 except in football, which will go down to 1A.
Statewide, the new realignment slashes the 4A classification to just 13 schools after an exodus of former Region 10 teams to 3A (Ben Lomond and Ogden) and 5A (Tooele, Stansbury, Cedar Valley and Uintah).
It leaves 4A with just the six Bear River/Cache County region schools and the seven St. George area region schools. In turn, 5A will consist of five regions with a total of 34 schools instead of four regions with 29 schools.
The watered-down 4A prompted a lot of pushback from St. George area administrators as part of a much larger discussion about the future of the realignment process.
“Can’t even fill a 16-team (state tournament) bracket,” said board member Larry Bergeson, superintendent of the Washington County School District.
ROY LEAVING REGION 1
At a public hearing Wednesday night, Roy High asked to go from Region 1 to Region 2, which consists exclusively of Salt Lake County Schools.
The reasoning, according to school principal Matt Williams, athletic director Mike Puzey and Weber School District Secondary Education Supervisor Clyde Moore, was for more competitive balance.
Apart from football, which just won a shared Region 1 title, Roy High finishes at or near the bottom of the Region 1 standings in almost every other sport.
“If we’re worried about kids’ participation, and that’s my purpose in doing this, we feel this benefits Roy High and our kids so we can give them a positive experience. We match up and fit demographically more with Region 2 than we do in Region 1 currently,” Williams said.
The obvious difference with Region 2 is increased travel, an average of 30-45 minutes down to Salt Lake County for road games compared with short trips among the Weber and Davis County schools in Region 1.
Puzey said the school has the support of district superintendent Jeff Stephens — Stephens confirmed his support in an email Thursday — as well as the WSD school board and the coaches at the school.
Moore added that district leadership met about the issue and thinks it will benefit the kids even with the increased travel.
Demographically speaking, Roy has a relatively high free-and-reduced lunch rate among its student population and a high transiency rate, meaning many students come and go during the school year.
The school also has relatively low athletic participation numbers compared to Region 1 and, unlike most of Roy’s Region 1 counterparts, the school’s boundaries are “landlocked” and there’s not as much room for growth.
Since RHS had more than 1,800 students in its Oct. 1 headcount, it was far above the threshold to drop from the 6A classification to 5A, where it would ideally fit into Region 5 with Bonneville, Box Elder and the south Davis schools.
Moving to Region 2 was the school’s next best option, since Roy and Region 1 have held mutual dislike since moving into the new alignment in 2019.
THE 5A/4A ISSUE
Since it was apparent that most of the 4A Region 10 schools were jumping ship and the 4A classification was being watered down, most of the meeting centered around a lengthy and multi-faceted discussion about what to do with the 5A-4A disparity.
It delved into issues of the growing divide between urban and rural schools, plus a larger desire for realignment to lean somewhat on competitive equity, which currently it does not.
A couple board members floated the idea of moving the Cache and St. George schools up to 5A, rearranging the 6A classification and going back to five classifications, then working over the next two years to create a better realignment system for 2023-25.
There were other ideas as well.
“At some time, we gotta break the (realignment) rules and let the association move schools where they need to be,” board member Dale Whitlock said.
The suggestion drew a rebuke from UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff.
Cuff said the UHSAA staff has a plan to address the inequities across the high school sports landscape, which has been presented in prior meetings. Cuff said the plan has “fallen on deaf ears.”
Cuff said the time for the board to change policies was in August, when it approved the current format and procedures for this realignment cycle.
In the end, 4A has just two regions while 5A picked up a fifth region of schools who could reasonably compete in 4A, but who are mostly too large to be 4A.
GOING BY THE BOOK
A lack of foresight by the board to adopt realignment policies in August that were wider in scope compared to the current ones helped contribute to the watered-down 4A classification.
Among many things, the format and procedures establish the numeric range of schools in each classification, which schools are eligible to move up and down, and establishes six classifications. Going back to five classifications was never an option, even it it would’ve provided a temporary solution.
The procedures state that any school can apply to move up one classification, but only schools that have a 50% free and reduced lunch rate, or schools that are deemed low “bubble” schools (as determined by their enrollment) can move down.
The board retains “plenary” power in making realignment decisions, but UHSAA staff advised against breaking the rules. The board ended up going by the book, though there was some noted displeasure with how things turned out.
Toward the end of the meeting, Board member Sam Jarman motioned to establish a committee to study the format and procedures, and essentially figure out a new process for the UHSAA’s biennial realignment.
That much is clear. What’s not clear is what a new format would look like, what ideas are currently brewing or when people will get a better idea of what the future might look like.
Board and staff members were mostly in agreement that the current alignment isn’t ideal for a lot of reasons and they hoped changes will come by the time the board considers the 2023-25 realignment.
Another conversation that heated up was the one about disbanding regions, which is gaining support. For now, regions are staying put because that’s what was in the board-approved alignment rules from August.
NEW REGION ALIGNMENT
6A Region 1: Clearfield, Davis, Farmington, Fremont, Layton, Syracuse, Weber
6A Region 2: Roy, Cyprus, Granger, Hunter, Kearns, Taylorsville, West
5A Region 5: Bonneville, Bountiful, Box Elder, Northridge, Viewmont, Woods Cross
4A Region 11: Bear River, Green Canyon, Logan, Mountain Crest, Ridgeline, Sky View
3A Region 13: Ben Lomond, Layton Christian, Morgan, Ogden, Grantsville, South Summit
2A Region 17: St. Joseph, Utah Military Academy (Riverdale), APA Draper, APA West Valley, Rowland Hall, Waterford