AIA redesigns divisions for upcoming school year

Williams Field running back Aaron Mason scores a touchdown against Show Low High School during a home game on Aug. 22, 2014. (Courtesy of Devon Christopher Adams).

Williams Field running back Aaron Mason scores a touchdown against Show Low High School during a home game on Aug. 22, 2014. (Courtesy of Devon Christopher Adams).

The coming school year will bring changes to the Arizona Interscholastic Association divisions. The AIA is the governing body over most public and some private school sports in Arizona. In past years, the divisions have been determined by enrollment numbers. Divisions in the past have been one to five, with the largest schools placed in Division I and the smallest schools placed in Division V. The divisions are reevaluated every two years. For the 2015-16 school year, the AIA will take much more into account.
“It was using a formula that looked at enrollment, previous ranking history and free and reduced lunch numbers,” Brian Bolitho, director of business development for the AIA, said.
Bolitho said the AIA felt the formula would place schools better in terms of competitive purposes.
The divisions were set by each sport, and then the schools had the opportunity to appeal their placement.
“This was done as a three-year block,” Bolitho said. “As we get into the school year, we will look at if this is successful or is it not successful.”
Last year Skyline High School, 845 S. Crismon Road, Mesa, was Division I; this year the school was placed in Division II.
“They put you in a division that they felt was more like neighborhood schools, that are similar to one another,” Greg Schultz, athletic director of Skyline, said. But the formula only applied to team sports, like volleyball and football, Schultz said. That left the individual sports, like wrestling and boys and girls golf at Division I.
“We thought if we’re going to be in Division II for our team sports, then we should be in Division II for all these other sports,” Schultz said. “So we could have common opponents.”
So Schultz appealed to come down to Division II for the rest of the teams at Skyline, with the exception of basketball and baseball. Those coaches felt that they should still be competing at the Division I level, Schultz said.
The new formula also brings opponents that schools have never competed against.
“We have people like Williams Field and Higley on our schedules that they don’t know us and we don’t know them,” Schultz said. Williams Field, 2076 S Higley Road, Gilbert, and Higley, 4068 E Pecos Road, Gilbert, in the Higley Unified School District, were both moved up from Division III.
“Williams Field and Queen Creek are our two rivals from proximity and history,” Eddy Zubey, head coach of Higley football, said. “Skyline will be a tough team as well.”
Skyline’s head coach said that coming down a division doesn’t necessarily mean they will have an easier season.
“I don’t want our kids to be complacent in Division II,” Angelo Paffumi, head coach of football at Skyline High School, said.
Paffumi said that even in Division II they will have some tough competition
“Locally, it will be Williams Field, who is very talented, a lot of skilled kids, very well coached,” Paffumi said.
Higley played in the toughest section of Division III, which included Queen Creek, Williams Field and Saguaro (in Scottsdale), according to Zubey.
“Playing that tough competition and seeing that is probably going to be the biggest advantage. We have seen some of the best teams in Division II,” Zubey said.
With the divisions no longer based solely on enrollment numbers that puts schools like Williams Field with an enrollment of 1,710 students pitted against teams like Westwood, 945 W. Rio Salado Parkway, and Mesa, 630 E. Southern Ave., Mesa with enrollments of 3,131 and 3,417, respectively.
“We’re playing schools right around us, at the same makeup, socioeconomically, that we do but they have 1,000 to 1,500 more kids than us. That’s going to be a challenge,” Steve Campbell, head coach of Williams Field, said.
All three coaches said that their biggest challenge is the week-in and week-out grind of the lack of easy games on their schedules.
The players have had mixed responses about the divisional changes.
“At first they thought it was a little bit of an insult to them,” Paffumi said. “What we accomplished they have to understand no one is going to take away from them.” Paffumi’s team went 10-2 last year before falling to Hamilton High School, in the Division I quarterfinals 21-14.
“We have 19 of our 22 starters coming back so we are a veteran team,” Zubey said. “They were excited to play more teams that are around our school and not have to travel so much.”
“It’s just been excitement. I put the schedule up on the board and every kid had their phone out taking pictures,” Campbell said.
Campbell said a lot of the energy came from the fact that now they are playing schools that are closer in proximity. Many of the players will be facing some of their old opponents.
“A lot of these kids played against each other or even played with each other in youth football.” Campbell said.
For more information on the AIA, visit http://aiaonline.org/. For more information on the schools, visit www.maxpreps.com and search for the school.
News Services Assistant Arianna Grainey can be reached at 623-445-2717, via e-mail at agrainey@newszap.com or on twitter
at ariannagrainey

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