Proposed high school realignment would shake things up
On a cold February night in 2011, the gymnasium at Park City High School was a platform for another round in one of the more storied rivalries in the history of Utah high school athletics. More important than the action on the basketball court, there was something else going on in the packed gym — something that meant way more than points or rebounds.
Six weeks prior to that boys’ basketball game between the Wasatch Wasps and the Park City Miners, a young man named Dale Lawrence, a wrestler at Wasatch High School, suffered a serious neck injury in practice that paralyzed him.
On that February night, the two longtime rivals, separated by a 17-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 40 and roughly 1,000 feet in altitude, made the game seem irrelevant during halftime. Scott Chester of the Park City High School Booster Club grabbed the microphone and asked everyone in the audience to reach into their pockets and give whatever they could to the Lawrence family, which was suddenly dealing with astronomical medical bills.
In 10 minutes, spectators from Heber and Park City pulled together $1,468.85.
But after decades of red and white versus black and gold, after countless exhilarating victories, innumerable bouts of heartbreak and that magical February 2011 night, the Park City-Wasatch rivalry could be going away.
In a proposed region realignment by the Utah High School Activities Association that would affect every high school in the state, Wasatch, one of the fastest-growing schools in the state, could very well become a 4A school by tomorrow. A public hearing will be held today at 6 p.m. at the UHSAA offices in Midvale to get feedback from the various districts, schools and communities on the placement of schools into new regions.
That leaves Park City, which, under to the new realignment proposal would be part of the unique new 3A-3AA region, without its oldest and most important rival.
"With Park City, we’ve enjoyed a very competitive rivalry in all sports with them," said Wasatch High School Principal Shawn Kelly. "We hope to continue to play them; it will be a little different when it doesn’t mean a region championship is on the line, but I would hope there’s still a rivalry."
Making it stick will be a challenge.
Wasatch is currently slated to make its 4A debut beginning in fall 2013 in a region with Utah County 4A schools Maple Mountain, Payson, Provo, Orem, Salem Hills, Spanish Fork, Springville and Timpview, if the current realignment holds true. The assignment of schools into regions will be finalized on Thursday, Nov. 29, by the UHSAA Board of Trustees, allowing time for schools and regions to organize and schedule for the two-year alignment period. Meanwhile, the Miners could be entering a whole new world, especially in football.
In order to make 3A sports more competitive, the UHSAA proposed a split within the 3A class only in football. As the current proposal states, there would be a 3AA class as well as a 3A class in 2013 that separates the bigger 3A schools from the smaller ones.
There would be 15 teams in the 3AA class, including one region that features Park City, Bear River, Ben Lomond, Carbon, Juan Diego, Stansbury, Tooele and Uintah. If the decision to introduce the class 3AA holds, and that region goes into effect in 2013, that would mean the Miners’ closest region road game would be in Draper, roughly 40 miles away.
Taking into account that other road games would include Bear River (100 miles away), Carbon (140 miles away) and Vernal (144 miles away), Park City’s football program, as well as the other teams in the proposed northern 3AA class, would face a daunting travel schedule.
"I’m not sure what the philosophies are when these realignments are done," said Park City High School football coach Mike Shepherd. "I’ve been around long enough to know the first (decision in realignment) is one that always leaves people scratching their heads. Hopefully as many people can be happy in the end, but I have the hope that they revert to the original 3A format."
In the proposed realignment, for all sports other than football, Park City would remain in Region 10 with all the same teams as of today (Juan Diego, Judge Memorial, Union, Uintah), with Carbon as the lone newcomer replacing Wasatch.
"I’m not sure how that’s going to play out," said Doug Payne, Park City High School’s athletic director. "Funky is a part of it, having different regions for different sports."
Payne said outside of football, the various head coaches at Park City aren’t sweating the realignment as the remaining core five from this year’s Region 10 will make all other sports competitive, especially Juan Diego and Judge Memorial.
"Right now they’re all just going with the flow," he said. "When we get into things like baseball and soccer, they’re all going to very competitive. It’s not a bad realignment; it’s just a lot further to travel to Carbon than over to Wasatch."
Shepherd said losing Wasatch and having a reduced number of teams in 3A will restrict the teams in the 3AA class in that each year they’ll have seven region games, leaving just three slots open for non-region games. And when it comes to non-region games, there will be pressure to schedule the Wasps as well as Judge Memorial, whose football program would move to the class 3A ranks.
"There’s no reason why they can’t keep it the way it is right now," he said. "With only 15 teams in a whole (3AA) classification, how will they be able to make playoffs as good as they should be?"
Kelly likened the change for Park City and Wasatch to the football rivalry between BYU and Utah where recently the Cougars became a football independent, while the Utes joined the Pac-12 Conference after decades of playing in the same conference.
"It is a little different. There won’t be as much at stake, but anytime you put Park City and Wasatch together, you’re still going to have a good, hard competitive game," he said.
South Summit head football coach Jerry Parker said the realignment has its positives and negatives in 2A sports. He said there are 13 2A teams in the proposed realignment, and said he’s hoping Summit Academy, which is currently designated as one of the smaller 3A schools, can be brought down to even things out.
"I really like the 16 teams we had," he explained. "You had eight in each division. But if we go 13 teams, it’ll be an odd number and there will be a playoff bye for someone. That’s not very encouraging there. I wish we could keep at least 16 teams, but I understand the rationale."
In 2A football, the proposed realignment shows South Summit in a region with North Summit, Beaver, Millard, Layton Christian and Gunnison. Parker said there is talk of Beaver and Millard switching places with North and South Sevier — which are currently in the other southern 2A region — to cut back on travel time for all parties.
But the longtime Wildcat head coach said his one major qualm with the realignment is the fact that football, much like Park City, will have different rivalries from other sports. In all sports aside from football, the Wildcats are scheduled to be in a region with Manti, Gunnison, North Summit, Maeser Prep and Waterford.
"I really like regions to play each other in all sports, so you get really strong rivals," he said. "If we play Manti in football, I want to play them in basketball, wrestling, softball in everything."
Parker said an issue that repeatedly comes up is the fact that some 2A schools don’t want to send their younger teams — such as freshman, sophomore and junior varsity squads –on five-hour bus rides due to budgetary constraints.
"But they’ll send one for varsity," he said. "That’s the real issue; that’s the real expense that always comes up."
Parker admitted that when it comes to the inevitable realignments every few years, "none of us gets what we totally want for our own situation," but added that more than anything, he’s lucky to walk away with the North Summit rivalry intact, unlike the Park City-Wasatch situation.
"I think it’s real important because if you don’t have rivals, you lose something," he said.
While none of this realignment is set it stone yet, and a multitude of ideas and theories can be tossed out at tonight’s meeting in Sandy, it seems likely that the Park City-Wasatch in-region rivalry will bow out.
"It’s going to be different, that’s for sure," Kelly said. "The main thing I want is to have that Park City-Wasatch rivalry continue on. I think we should play them in every sport."
Even if that happens, whether it be a preseason girls’ soccer game or the final non-region football game of the early fall season, will it ever be the same?
"We’re going to miss that rivalry," Shepherd said. "We always had mutual respect for each other."
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