It's a topic so mind-numbing and controversial just the thought of it makes school officials wince.

And while they find it controversial and boring, the public is likely unaware it even occurs. That is, until it affects them.

Realignment.

It's a word that strikes fear into the heart of any principal or coach who loves the region in which they currently play, and it brings hope to those who do not.

Realignment is the process of separating the state's nearly 130 schools into regions and classifications. Technically, it's only supposed to happen every four years, with the exception being a catastrophic change. With the infusion of new schools and exploding populations in St. George and parts of Utah County, state officials have had to adjust the alignment midway through the current alignment.

But now, as the current alignment enters year three, the Utah High School Activities Association's Board of Trustees begins the formal re-alignment process.

The lobbying has already begun with Gunnison attending the very first realignment meeting with a printed version of how school officials there would like to see the classification sizes changed.

Skyline has already formally requested to go 4A and many are already trying to figure out how to put private and charter schools in their own classification.

The games have just begun. As has the heartache.

As the BOT members tried to settle on what the criteria for the new alignment would be, it becomes clear that no aspect of this will be easy or clear-cut. Former school superintendent Steve Laing has been recruited to chair the process, a job he's already done once before. He's offered condolences when others hear he has the job and everyone jokes that he'll have the shortest Christmas card list in the state when the job is finished.

The process is so painful because Utah is so unique.

The state has to consider the issues for a school like West Desert with seven students in grades 10-12, while balancing the problems facing a school like Riverton, which has 2,774 students.

The BOT has already decided that it will stick with five classifications and they've tentatively worked out what the population parameters will be for each class. But those will change multiple times before this process is finished.

With 128 school now members of the association and six others either approved or hoping to gain approval by next fall, this realignment may be the toughest ever.

They will consider geography. Is six hours one-way too far for a team to travel for region contests? If it is, how do you allow that distant school to participate?

Officials will weigh almost intangible issues like socioeconomic and cultural issues that could mean different types of participation issues for a school. They cannot make the decision based on numbers alone.

And then, after they've weighed where a school is and the unique attributes of its student body, they have to try and honor decades-old rivalries.

They have to do be a little psychic, a little diplomatic, a little empathetic and patient beyond description. Everyone hopes they are doing what's best for the students, but the most difficult aspect of the job is understanding the big picture while considering the affects on the individual athletes.

It is not possible to make everyone happy, so my advice to the BOT is help them understand. The very characteristics that make Utah an amazing place to live will make this a horrendously difficult task.

My advice is simple, albeit probably too general. First, take information and suggestions from anyone and everyone. Then, as you compare issues, scenarios, and situations, keep foremost in your minds what is best for the student athletes as a whole. And finally, once you make a decision, stick to it.

Christmas cards are overrated anyway.


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