Uintah High School finds itself in a position unlike any other in the state's history.

Beginning in 2009, the Utes will compete in a 3A region during league play, but during the post-season, the teams will take on 4A schools.

Region 9, the six schools in southern Utah, has three that are 3A and three that are 4A for purposes of post-season play. Uintah, however, will be the only school from Region 10 to compete in 4A for the state playoffs.

To date, it's not entirely clear just how Uintah's teams will qualify for state tournaments.

Coaches and school officials did not want this distinction. It came about during one of the most contentious and controversial processes in high school sports.

The Utah High School Activities Association's Board of Trustees re-align the state's athletic regions every four years. And let me admit right now, it is an excruciatingly difficult and thankless task.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who wade into the fray year after year to try and keep the state's playing fields fair AND convenient. Utah's unique geographical layout makes it impossible to have a nice even number of schools of the same size in close proximity to each other.

The difficult part of realignment is that every school or district has different issues. For some schools, travel is the most pressing concern. For others, it's preserving rivalries or ensuring a school's ability to be competitive.

Every school has unique participation and population concerns, and the Utah High School Activities Association's board of trustees must consider those while trying to keep schools of essentially the same size competing against each other.

The process is designed, and rightly so, to consider individual circumstances.

Which is why I was surprised when the board of trustees flatly refused to move Uintah up to 4A completely last week.

The overwhelming sentiment was, if officials make any adjustments, they'll be listening to requests from now until Christmas 2012, when they start the next realignment process.

In fact, the board of trustees refused to even allow Uintah officials to come in and address the group in person.

I was surprised because I thought that's what the board of trustees was supposed to do. No process is perfect, which is why board members have the ability to make adjustments. They've made several during the last three years — 96 all of them badly needed.

In fact, Bill Boyle, Region 19's representative, said he felt they'd made mistakes, including moving Murray up to 5A when the district's decision to house its alternative school inside the high school pushed the Spartans enrollment numbers slightly over the 4A cap.

He expressed hope that, in the future, they'd make it easier to rectify some of those mistakes.

Uintah put itself in a difficult position when administrators appeared at a public hearing last spring hoping to stay 3A. The board of trustees had proposed putting them in a region in south Utah County. They said travel was their most crucial concern, although they pointed out some unique population concerns that affect athletic participation.

So when Wasatch principal Paul Sweat, whose students will compete against Uintah in Region 10, represented the school's concerns at a meeting last week, he said they felt slighted that they'd never been able to respond to the unique move as it happened near the end of the process.

He likened it to not only being overlooked for prom but then having their noses rubbed in it. Their athletes would be at a disadvantage competing all year against 3A schools and then entering post-season play against larger schools, they asserted.

Teresa Theurer, the Utah State Board of Education's representative on the board of trustees, made a motion to allow them to move to 4A. She said if they were willing to travel, then officials should let them play 4A.

Only three others agreed with her.

There is a reason the state does not decide regions by punching in numbers and addresses and allowing a computer to decide where athletes should play and what issues should take precedent.

It's not practical.

The state realigns regions because things change. Populations shift. Schools close and open, and issues arise. Human beings can deal with these things.

And, no, I don't think these are people who just enjoy a good power play. They are intelligent, sensitive, hard-working public and private school administrators who understand the realities of their actions and are sincere about trying to do what's best for student athletes.

Knowing who they are only makes their decision not to get their hands dirty even more baffling. While deciding region alignments requires courage and firmness, there is no place for rigidity.


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com