Prep sports: High schools lobby on eve of UHSAA realignment

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Midvale • High school administrators concerned about longer bus rides, lost rivalries and smaller gate margins lobbied Wednesday night, hoping to improve their lots on the eve of an athletics realignment decision and the state's move to a six-classification system for football.

The Utah High School Activities Association's 30-member board of trustees took public comment from dozens of school officials from around the state, and will make a final decision during a meeting Thursday morning.

"One thing that is clear is how much passion people have," board chairman Bill Boyle said.

It might be the only thing that's absolutely clear after the two-hour meeting.

The board of trustees will have to "walk a tightrope" as it deals with those conflicting interests Thursday, Boyle said.

Multiple schools with enrollments that put them on the bubble of being in one class or another cited safety in asking to stay in the smaller classes.

"It's not just kids taking licks in the win-loss record, but taking licks physically," Hillcrest principal Susan Malone said, in asking that her school remain in 4A.

For a number of schools on the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, UHSAA's first realignment proposal caused worry.

Under the current proposal, Herriman would move up from 4A to 5A, and would be the only Salt Lake County school in a region otherwise made up of Utah County schools.

Herriman principal James Birch said such a region would ruin traditional rivalries with schools such as Bingham and Riverton.

"To split them up and send us down south takes that away from those kids, this natural rivalry that's formed throughout their lives."

It also hurts attendance at games, the principal said. When Westlake last played at Herriman, the school brought just 55 fans, Birch said.

"There's something psychological about the Point of the Mountain," Riverton assistant principal Curtis Hagen said.

Hagen proposed an east/west split that would allow those southwestern Salt Lake County schools to be together. So many games in Utah County would also add to travel costs that have increased $14,000 since the last realignment two years ago, Hagen said.

A North Sanpete representative said the new proposal would mean a $19,000 increase in travel costs for athletics alone.

Changes in enrollment — the primary reason why the UHSAA takes on the realignment effort every two years — will prompt a handful of moves.

Westlake will likely join Herriman in moving up to 5A. Ogden, Wasatch, Payson and Spanish Fork are all currently slated to compete in 4A beginning next year.

The UHSAA's move to a six-classification system will have the biggest impacts on the state's smaller schools. The current 3A will be split into two groups: 3AA, the larger of the two, and 3A. Five teams that played last season in 2A will likely move up to 3A. And 1A could lose two teams, leaving just eight teams competing for a football title.

"I hope we can make a commitment that 1A football won't go away because of that," said Rich School District superintendent Dale Lamborn.

Twitter: @aaronfalk