Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
In its first year playing in Class 4A after a controversial region realignment, Snow Canyon's girls volleyball team knocked off Dixie to claim the state championship at UVSC. Another southern Utah school, Hurricane, took third.

Pride was about the only thing on the line for all six St. George-area schools in their last football game of the region season.

"The way it was scheduled, some of the games were meaningless," said Craig Hammer, the executive director of secondary schools for Washington School District and the former principal of Dixie High. "There's still a little rivalry, but while you don't want to lose, you don't want to get kids hurt before the state tournament, either."

The problem was created by the fact that those six schools play in a region situation unlike any other in the state's history. Pine View, Snow Canyon and Dixie are all 4A schools, while Canyon View, Cedar and Hurricane are 3A schools. The situation is unique because while all six teams play against each other during region play, the only games that count in terms of region titles, standings or post-season seeding are those against schools in the same classification.

"It's hard to schedule and be fair," said Hammer. "In football, it comes down to a two-game season ... The problem is there just isn't an answer for the situation."

With fall sports in the books there are a number of issues that have surfaced and some that have been solved regarding this first-ever alignment. Dixie High won golf, Snow Canyon won volleyball, Hurricane took third in volleyball, while Pine View was the runner-up in 4A football. Their performances prove that the three schools forced to move to 4A because of burgeoning enrollments are more than capable of competing with larger schools.

And for the 3A schools, there have also been advantages.

"It obviously helped us," said Hurricane principal Dr. Roy Hoyt. "This wasn't one of our better seasons (in football) and we still got to a playoff game."

But two region champions and some qualification issues in individual sports like golf and cross country did get a little complicated.

"It's been a little bit confusing," said Hoyt. "Our coaches like not being judged in games against those bigger schools, but we don't necessarily want to have to travel to Carbon or Emery to play region games because of the time and cost involved."

Hammer said the region opted to pay for two region championship trophies and they're solving problems as they arise. For example, they will hold two separate Region 9 wrestling tournaments to allow for accurate seeding.

"But drill team is another problem," Hammer said. "Pine View doesn't participate so we can't have a two-team tournament."

Instead, officials have arranged for Snow Canyon and Dixie to travel to the Region 7 drill tournament in Utah County where they will have the chance to qualify for state.

"They're not really happy about it, but it's the best we could do," Hammer said. "Everyone is always complaining about a five team region; well, try a three team region ... But we'll keep limping along if we have to."

Most of the principals in the area agree that while the situation is not ideal, it's the best anyone has can come up with, and most are happy with the way everyone is pitching in to work out the kinks. The Region 9 Board of Managers met Monday morning to discuss next year's fall schedules and members solved some of the football issues by scheduling those critical region games at the end of the season.

But, Hammer points out, just as they solve one problem, another takes its place.

"Desert Hills will open next fall as a 3A school, so the 4A schools will have a bye one week during that important time of the season," he said. Officials have already called Nebo District officials as they have a school opening next fall and may have a school in the same situation as one of the St. George schools.

And most officials agree the problems have been more severe for the larger schools than the smaller schools.

"It's worked out OK for us," Hoyt said. "It's been more of a problem for the 4A schools as they've had more issues getting quality people to play them and prepare them for the playoffs."

As the Utah High School Activities Association's Board of Trustees begins another realignment one thing is already apparent to those southern schools. With Pine View and Dixie projected to be between 1,000 and 1,100 students, even after the new schools open, and officials considering moving the 4A line to about 1,000 students, the area will always have 4A size schools.

"There's always going to be issues," Hoyt said, "as long as we're at this end of the state."

Hammer agrees but hopes officials can find a way to incorporate this growing area without adversely affecting those who matter most — the student athletes.

"The parents in the St. George area want the same opportunities for their children that the schools along the Wasatch Front have," he said. "We just don't know how to get that."

E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com