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Prep sports: UHSAA to consider socioeconomic factors in upcoming classification realignment

Published April 4, 2014 7:18 pm

Prep sports • UHSAA will examine how financial disparities create uneven playing fields.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Kearns football coach Matt Rickards recently began digging into the relationship between the socioeconomic statuses of Utah high schools and their athletic success. After hours of work, he was surprised at what, exactly, he found.

He had believed there would be some correlation — that much he knew just from watching schools populated by students from lower-income families, such as Kearns, struggle athletically. But he wasn't prepared for just how significant the disadvantage schools with students from mostly lower-income families deal with when it comes to athletic success, compared to schools populated with students from more affluent families.

Rickards' findings were so drastic, in fact, that he proposed to the Utah High School Activities Association that it take into account the socioeconomic statuses of schools during its upcoming classification realignment process for the 2015-2017 seasons.

And the UHSAA has listened, deciding in a board of trustees meeting Wednesday to reconvene and send the findings of Rickards — and the Ogden School District, which presented similar information — to the realignment committee to consider.

"What I found is some large [Class] 5A schools, such as Kearns, Granger, West Jordan and others, would be better off competing in 3A," said Rickards, who came up with his own realignment model, based on factors such as percentage of students on reduced lunch or fee waiver at each school, overall athletic winning percentage from the last three years and postseason tournament appearances and success.

"Some of the schools, it was quite surprising where they ranked," he said. "For instance, I was quite surprised that [Kearns] would be ranked near the bottom in every category."

Under the current realignment model the board had proposed before Wednesday's meeting, schools would be placed into a classification based on enrollment numbers. Rob Cuff, executive director of the UHSAA, said those numbers are used for realignment because they are accurate and objective, which is crucial to the process.

Cuff said this is not the first time socioeconomics have been brought up in the realignment process, but other proposals have lacked hard, objective information to support them.

With better numbers more available, as a result of schools and school districts having to report more information, Cuff said the board felt it was appropriate to further investigate Rickards' claims.

"Somehow those factors need to be worked into the alignment to make it a little more fair," Cuff said. "Our board felt it needed more time to look at it and re-evaluate it. They'll have plenty of time for that."

Cuff said a decision regarding realignment doesn't have to be made until November. However, the UHSAA board of trustees will meet again in June and a decision could be finalized then. The new alignments are set to take effect until August 2015.

Rickards was pleased the UHSAA is taking his findings seriously. But he remains worried that the board perceives his realignment plan as complicated. He said it was labor-intensive for him to find the information to conduct his study, but the actual process of aligning the schools was much simpler.

"As far as the rankings system, it could take 90 minutes to two hours to do, every two years," he said.

Jay Welk, athletic director and basketball coach at Davis, said the UHSAA examining the socioeconomics of its member schools would be a proactive step to fixing a problem that has been evident for years.

Welk, who recently announced his retirement, said schools like Davis have long had an inherent competitive advantage over lower-income schools.

"Our kids have the resources here that their parents can put them on a traveling AAU team, get them exposure," Welk said. "That increases ability level, confidence level, everything. Not all kids have that ability. Not all parents can send them to a travel team, to a team camp."

bbrown@sltrib.com