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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest community responds to new UHSAA alignment

Mar 22, 2021 04:37PM ● By Julie Slama

Although senior Anthony Vail broke loose of a tackle, the Huskies were trailing 35-0 to Skyline in the second quarter in what would be a homecoming loss of 52-0; athletic directors hope a new region would allow the Huskies to be more competitive than this year when they tallied two wins all season, both in non-region play. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Julie King is looking forward to next fall. 

As a parent of a sophomore football player, she said it was difficult playing Corner Canyon, Brighton and other high schools and “getting shmacked, just clobbered. We need more competitive teams, so we aren’t getting killed.”

Her son was on the baseball team last year and plans to try out for tennis this spring.

“I’m willing to travel anywhere to see my kid play, but it would be better if we could play teams closer,” she said. “Not everyone has the flexible schedule as we do. It will be hard for the parents who work full-time 9 to 5 to see their kids play.”

Parent Trevor Hinckley said for him, it would be difficult to get off work to see his daughter play volleyball and basketball in several upcoming faraway region games. He hopes they’d all be livestreamed.

“She had two volleyball tournaments and a basketball game in the Logan area this last year and there was no way we could get off work in time to see her play,” he said. “With a younger child at home, it will be tough to drive even farther the next two years.”

In December, the Utah High School Activities Association announced its new biannual region alignments and with it, Hillcrest High student-athletes in 5A region 7 play Stansbury and Tooele high schools to the west and Cedar Valley and Payson high schools to the south that are all about an hour away. Hillcrest also will travel to Uintah High to the east, which is three hours away. The only neighboring school is Cottonwood High.

The football-only region alignment includes Cedar Valley, Payson, Stansbury, Tooele, Uintah as well as Mountain View and Timpanogos, both in Utah County, instead of Cottonwood.

King also worries about if other parents will opt not to travel, including the opposition, how it will reduce ticket sales and also, concessions sales, which help support the team. 

“There are teams that are closer, and they may be smaller, but we’re on the same playing level,” she said. “It is discouraging year after year of getting killed, but we now have some good kids and some of the best coaches. It will be hard on the kids to travel, play, travel back home and expect to be in class the next day and play again.”

However, she said her son has not been discouraged in the current region.

“If you listen to him talk, you’d think they won every game by a landslide,” she said.

Hinckley also said his sophomore daughter hasn’t been dispirited.

“If she can walk off the court saying, ‘I did the best I could,’ and the other team is just better, there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.

Hinckley said that he hates the idea of extra travel—with up to six hours for his daughter on a bus—but he “really likes the aspect, if it truly is more competitive” of a region.

“A variety of teams is always good, so we aren’t always playing the same teams. We shouldn’t have to travel three hours away to be more competitive, but I feel for Vernal kids always having to drive anywhere to compete,” he said. 

Hinckley hopes that perhaps if the teams compete on a Friday night, they may consider staying overnight instead of arriving back at school “at 1 or 2 in the morning.” He also said if not, that his daughter would be studying on the bus en route to the games and sleeping on the return trips.

King also points out that bus trips aren’t conducive to studying and worries that it will impact her straight-A son who takes several Advanced Placement classes.

Both Hinckley’s and King’s student-athletes are considering enrolling in the school’s demanding International Baccalaureate program.

Those are some of the concerns that have been brought before Hillcrest administrators, including Principal Greg Leavitt and Athletic Directors Scott Carrell and Sally Williams. Those administrators reached out to several coaches before they signed on to travel with this new region.

“It’s a great region,” Leavitt said. “We chose to be more competitive than geographic. Our records speak for themselves. Our kids are playing harder and trying harder, but we want to be competitive. It will help us to develop our student-athletes and most of the coaches feel good about the region.”

Football coach Brock Bryant is pumped for the new region.

“I love it,” he said. “They’ve been talking about just going to RPI (rating performance index used to seed teams at state tournaments) and getting rid of regions, so we can pick who we play and have a more competitive season, but this is a good compromise. It’s one where we can get some wins, build confidence and rebuild our program. It’s much more competitive for our team than the current region.”

Bryant said that many of the current teams Hillcrest plays are “reloading,” meaning that they have solid youth programs or under open enrollment, other student-athletes select to study at those high schools so they can play on their teams.

“It’s been demoralizing to compete in these kinds of regions. We want to play at a level we can compete at, to close the gap on the scoreboard,” he said. “I’d rather travel and be competitive than not travel. We do have some kids and parents who are excited about the new region and are wanting to see their kids be successful.”

Carrell said that this region was the “best fit for our school.” He also said that the enrollment size was part of the reason the teams were matched.

“The region was determined partly by size and participation rates. Hillcrest, for whatever the reason, is shrinking. We went from 6A to on the high-end of enrollment in 5A and now, we’re mid-5A. We have less students participating. So, we’re going on the assumption that these teams will be of the same caliber and better matched for us, because it’s not fun to lose by 40 points,” he said.

Hillcrest has about 2,100 students where Cottonwood and Uintah each has more than 1,700 enrolled.

Carrell recognized that travel was a trade-off to a more competitive region, but added, “Uintah is a tough one. We think that the ultimate goal of rebuilding during these two years will be worth the hassle. Principal Leavitt said to think outside the box on how we can rebuild our programs and we feel this will be a good region.”

Carrell also said that some of the programs, such as Uintah’s wrestling, have some amazing strong programs. But if Hillcrest continues to compete against some, such as Brighton, that have strong feeder programs in tennis and swimming, for example, “it could hurt us, and we want to help our teams and programs become better. We need a balance of competition and success and hopefully, with some new teams, we can learn and grow.”

Coach Dave Richardson said in his 13 years of coaching girls basketball, boys freshmen basketball and now boys and girls golf, he was surprised by the announcement of this region.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before; there has not been one that compares,” he said. “Some of our previous regions have been OK, some have been disastrous. For golf, tennis and some of the sports, it’s hard to compete in our current ‘country club region,’ up against the wealthy kids.”

Richardson said that Hillcrest doesn’t have a home golf course where they can play for free like several current region teams have and he fears that the upcoming region may be the same scenario—that some of the smaller town teams will also get to play for free in their hometown golf courses.

He also said that currently his players drive to their tournaments in the Salt Lake Valley since the teams are small.

Williams said that with scheduling, they may look at two teams competing at the same location, in hopes of doubling up on a school bus. She also said that they may look into overnight stays if competition is on a weekend, if it’s feasible.

“There’s no way we won’t have buses; we don’t want that liability. We could look at smaller teams like golf and tennis doubling up on a bus if the schedules work. We could even look into overnight stays if it’s a Friday so athletes wouldn’t have to travel back so late,” she said.

However, Leavitt said they’re still discussing arrangements, but they “won’t be doing overnights” and instead, look into bumping up game times to ensure safe return travel. He said vans also might be an option for smaller teams for travel.

Canyons District Business Administrator Leon Wilcox said the additional travel won’t increase student-athlete fees.

“We (Canyons District) pay the transportation costs for all UHSAA-sanctioned events,” he said. “HHS students will not be paying any higher participation fees than any of our other high schools. We will be working these costs into our annual budget.”

Carrell recognized parents’ concerns about academics: “We are looking at ways to have hotspots on buses to help with homework and more opportunities for distance learning.”

Boys basketball coach Brandon Sluga said that he may use some of the bus time to work with his team.

“We can structure some of the travel time as team-bonding time,” he said. “I always believe a student-athlete should get home as soon as he or she can so they can be normal kids—get home and be with the family, have a meal and do homework.”

Sluga, who does say it would be a “definite challenge on a Tuesday” if the schedule had them play away on Uintah’s home court, pointed out that teams would only have to travel there once during a competitive season. 

“I look forward to a new opportunity to travel and face different teams,” he said. “We can still build our preseason to play more challenging teams or those who are closer to home or however coaches see to benefit their programs. We want our kids to be motivated to play and compete and that’s the general decision of what’s best for all our programs.”