The Arizona Interscholastic Association is getting rid of Division I through Division VI and the single sport appeal process. It is bringing back the “A” class system and forcing each school to appeal as a whole.
The AIA will be introducing 1A through 6A conferences and restructuring divisions across the state to place schools in competitive regions based on student enrollment and geographic location. The cutoff point for most schools will be 1,000 students. Any school below 1,000 students will be placed in 1A through 3A, and any school above will be place in 4A through 6A accordingly.
With nearly 2,000 students, Maricopa High School will likely step up to the 5A division.
“I think what they’re going to do is take the top schools above 1,000. Right now, I believe it’s 128,” Maricopa Unified School District Athletic Director Mark Cisterna said. “They’re asking for our numbers as of Oct. 1, and I believe we were at 1,950. What that’s going to do is place us in the 5A category.”
The other major change in the realignment makes schools that wish to appeal out of their conference change all of the sports programs instead of appealing each sport individually. This is meant to avoid situations like Maricopa faces now where certain sports are in Division II and others are in Division III.
“I hope we’re going to have five to six teams per region,” Cisterna said. “That’ll be the same region for all sports, and that’ll be nice. We might even have a name again where you can say you are the ‘so and so’ region champs. Every sport will play in the 5A category. What that will allow us to do as athletic directors is to schedule some freedom games that allow us to continue with rivalries or schools that are close by.”
Since Maricopa has been successful at the Division II and III levels, it is unlikely they could successfully appeal down to 4A. According to Cisterna, this may not be a bad thing.
See 2015-16 Conference alignment and enrollment numbers
“I think this community is ready to compete with the larger schools,” he said. “Our athletes are buying in and I think our coaches are starting to accept that we’re not a small school anymore. We’re growing. Personally, I’m up for the challenge, and I know our coaches are.
“I know we’ll probably have a couple of bumps, but we’ll compete. I know we will.”
For the coaches, the new conference alignment will present new challenges and news obstacles. For MHS football head coach, it will give his players a great chance for exposure. It will also allow Maricopa to seek new levels of success and competition.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, and 5A, I’m excited for it,” McDonald said. “It’s obviously going to be a step up, but I think that we have some kids coming through this program that are pretty good football players, so it’ll allow them to challenge their talents and challenge us as a program.”
Melvin Mitchell, who is taking over as head coach of the girls basketball team that won the state championship in Division II, is waiting to see the impact. He already has concerns, given the low number of students that typically come out for girls basketball in Maricopa.
Last year’s freshman team of girls ended the season with just five players. This year, they could start with seven.
“Other schools definitely have more athletes to choose from,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think the realignment really makes sense in terms of student enrollment.”
He has no doubt in his team or his program.
“In terms of athletics, I feel as though we can compete with anyone,” Mitchell said. “We love the level of competition we have, and this move could affect that. We won’t really know until it happens.”
For MHS volleyball head coach Lashieka Holley, going to the 5A conference would be similar to the schedule the volleyball team played before appealing down to Division III this season.
“I don’t think it will affect us,” Holley said. “I think after moving down from (Division) II last year we’re more aligned with the teams that we should be. The skill level is more equal. And just knowing what we have coming up on our younger teams, I think we’ll be OK.”
The initial placement for Maricopa will take place on Oct. 12. This will be the first time schools get to see what conference they have been placed in. Athletic directors will then have until Oct. 20 to appeal. A second round of conference placements will be released on Nov. 2. The final decision for conference placement will take place on Nov. 16.
Between Nov. 17 and 25, newly formed conference committees will meet to generate region placement. The regions will be announced on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. Schools will have just two days to submit appeals, and the final decision for region placement will be Dec. 7.
Conference committees will meet again on Dec. 9 to start generating football schedules. By Feb. 17, 2016, all schedules should be built for AIA member schools.
“Realistically, looking at the criteria, we’re probably just going to stay 5A,” Cisterna said. “Just because of the success we had last year and the success we’re continuing to have.”