Realignment affects San Juan County
by Rhett Sifford
It will be an entirely new world for San Juan County high schools when activities begin again next fall. The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) Board of Trustees adopted new region alignments for 2019-21 on Thursday, Dec. 6.
During the Activities Association’s review process two years ago, appeals staved off drastic changes for schools in San Juan County. But that wasn’t the case this time around.
The heaviest impact is to Monticello High School, which leaves 1A Region 19 for 2A Region 16 in all activities except football. In addition to MHS, the new Region 16 consists of Altamont, Duchesne, Gunnison Valley, Monticello, North Sevier, and North Summit.
1A football is a thing of the past beginning in 2019. It merges into a new 2A classification that collects 14 teams. The Buckaroos join Altamont, Duchesne, Gunnison, Layton Christian, North Summit, and Rich in a 2A North region that promises to be very competitive.
With 144 students, Monticello is tied with Altamont as the third-smallest school in the new 2A classification. Only American Prep in Draper, UT (143 students) and Freedom Prep in Provo, UT (130) are smaller.
MHS Principal Lewis Whitaker and Athletic Director Krieg Adair both said their main concern during the UHSAA review process was an increase in travel and time spent out of class for Monticello students.
It could have been worse than the final result, and both said they are grateful that the Activities Association respectfully considered their appeal before making a final decision.
Monticello appeared in Region 18 in the Activity Association’s first realignment proposal, which would have increased the school’s round-trip travel distance from 1,298 miles per year to 3,112 miles. In the final alignment adopted on Dec. 6 Monticello’s round-trip distance per year is 2,424 miles.
Adair said, “All in all it’s about the best we could’ve hoped for in 2A.” He said he’s excited that the new regions “will be competitive and will push athletes to work a little harder.” On the downside, he said, “there will be a lot more travel and MHS students will have to be diligent to stay on top of their schoolwork.”
A bonus in the new region alignment is increased continuity across all activities. Adair pointed out, “We’ve kind of been managing three different regions [with football, baseball, and other activities]. Now all the regions will basically be the same.”
Adair said he has fond memories of competing in 2A when he attended Monticello High School. He said moving into a new region is going to be a challenge and something to learn and grow from.
“I think the only thing we can do is remain positive and go to work,” he explained. “Our kids are going to be successful because they’re hard workers, they’re coachable, and they want to succeed. I’m excited to see what they’re going to do with this challenge and, as athletic director, my plan is to be positive and lead by example.”
The realignment impact for San Juan High School is less severe than what MHS will experience starting next year. The Broncos already participate in 3A for all activities except football and Region 15 remains largely intact under a new designation.
San Juan, Emery, Grand, Richfield, and South Sevier all join Carbon in 3A Region 12, while Manti and North Sevier move to Region 14.
The biggest 2019 adjustment for SJHS will come in football. Along with Grand and South Sevier, the Broncos leave the 2A South to form an identical 3A Region 12 across all activities.
According to SJHS Athletic Director Lance Knight and Head Football Coach Barkley Christensen, their biggest concern with the new classification is that being the smallest school in 3A poses a possible safety risk, specifically for Bronco football players.
Christensen pointed out that four years ago the UHSAA “went to six classifications on grounds of safety and a competitive playing field. Now they go back to five classifications and we’re in the same classification with schools that are more than double our size.”
Knight said, “It’s going to hurt us playing bigger schools, specifically in football. I wish that they would look at sports participation numbers instead of just enrollment numbers.”
According to Christensen, San Juan High School and District Superintendent Ron Nielson contacted the UHSAA to express their concerns, but realignment went ahead as initially proposed.
Whitehorse, Monument Valley, and Navajo Mountain high schools are also affected by the new region alignment, but from the opposite side of all the movement. All three schools remain in 1A Region 19 and are joined by Lake Powell as Monticello and Wayne depart.
Whitehorse Athletic Director Kylee Brown has a positive outlook on the new 1A landscape.
He pointed out that WHS is unable to participate in offseason sports like other schools because they don’t get kids participating until buses start up for the school year. He said a smaller Region 19 will help Whitehorse athletes compete.
Brown pointed out that the Raiders already play “a pretty tough non-region schedule and we also anticipate playing Monticello and Wayne going forward – maybe not twice a year like now, but at least once a year.
“Our girls’ basketball team has already posted wins over Durango, CO, and Palisade, CO in recent tournaments,” he explained. “I hate to lose Monticello because they’ve been a good rival, but I feel the realignment is fair.”
Monument Valley Athletic Director Ryan Carlson has mixed feelings on the realignment. He said he’s concerned to lose the strongest competition from Region 19 and added that the region “will be so small that it will hard for us to have much of a voice within the state. My fear is that Region 20 and 21 will dominate the politics at the state level.” Kylee Brown echoed that sentiment.
On the upside, Carlson said that a shorter region schedule will give Monument Valley an opportunity to add more non-region games and elevate their competition.
According to UHSAA Executive Director Rob Cuff, the Activities Association formerly reviewed region alignment every four years, but due to enrollment fluctuation and the increased addition of charter schools, that time period was changed to two years.
Cuff said the UHSAA takes travel distance and competition level into serious consideration and that is reflected by the changes made to the initial placement of schools. He said travel distance was the main factor considered in Monticello High School’s final placement.
Cuff said, “The UHSAA makes an effort to keep rivalries and district schools together as much as they can and they do a good job getting everything put together.”