Head-scratching high school athletics


2017 NDP girl’s state tennis runner-up (Dalita Zarasian/Special to the Seraphim)

By Sarah Ziemann, Staff Writer

Some athletes may say it is Division II, others say Conference 5A, still other students and fans call it Division IV. What does all of this mean? The Arizona Interscholastic Athletic divisions can certainly be confusing, and Notre Dame Preparatory High School’s placing within these divisions can be equally difficult to understand. Currently, NDP is in Conference 5A for team sports and Division II for individual sports.

Possibly what makes these class differentiations so confusing is the distinction between individual and team sports within the AIA. The separation of team sports into conferences, and individual sports into divisions, is a relatively new concept for Arizona high school athletics.

Brian Bolitho, the Director of Business Development for the AIA, explained, “The AIA first started classifying schools into divisions in individual sports in the fall of 2010 and the move has been successful.”

In order to determine the division placements, the AIA looks at how a school places in their conferences. Some individual sports have more divisions than others, depending on how many schools participate in the sport.

“Most of the individual sports have limited participation, especially with the smaller schools,” Bolitho said. “[For] example, there are only approximately 140 of the 261 member schools that have swim [and] dive.”

For this reason, according to AIA’s Conference/Region/Scheduling Timeline, there are only three divisions for swim. All Conference 6A teams are in Division I, Conference 5A and the top Conference 4A teams are in Division II, and the rest of Conference 4A, Conference 3A, Conference 2A, and Conference 1A are in Division III. This breakup is different for each individual sport. For example, there are only two divisions for beach volleyball, in which only 53 schools participate.

To make things more complicated, there are different requirements to win and be successful in each of the individual sports. Some individual sports are based off of time, others are based off of points, and still others are based off of how a team placed among other teams.

NDP senior Alexa Markl, who signed a national letter of intent to study and swim at the University of Nevada, explained how individuals qualify for state in swim and dive: “A swimmer has to get a specific time in each event, and there [are] multiple different events,” she said.

NDP’s trophy case in the Dale M. Jensen Gymnasium (Sarah Ziemann/The Seraphim)

NDP has enjoyed success in several individual sports, including tennis and golf, as a result of favorable socioeconomics advancing their preparation through access to club memberships and private lessons. Moreover, tennis and golf are lesser based on having a significant numbers of athletes on a roster. Six competitors comprise a golf or tennis team.

Other individual sports, such as track, swim, and cross country are dependent on having many competitors to compete in the myriad of individual events. In order for a track team to compete for a state championship, a team needs many sprinters, jumpers, throwers, vaulters and distance runners. Most successful track teams are comprised of at least 60 dedicated athletes.

By petitioning to compete at a higher level, NDP also makes it much more difficult for its individual athletes to qualify for state meets. For instance, according to AIA’s State Track and Field Qualifying Standards, in 2018, a male shot putter in Division II had to throw over 47 feet to qualify. That distance is more than two feet further than the same athlete would have to throw if NDP were placed in Division III, with other schools of similar enrollments.

All of these methods of how to measure success in a sport and how to divide schools into different divisions own a clear purpose. Yet, sometimes it seems as if the confusion is not worth all the conflicts of correct competition.