TWIN FALLS — The changes in classifications for some of Idaho’s high school sports teams will make the Magic Valley’s athletic landscape look slightly different next year.
For one school, the idea of change is familiar territory, while others will be in new surroundings for the first time.
The Idaho High School Activities Association finalized its classifications for the 2020-22 cycle in September.
Valley is moving to Class 2A from 1A Division I due to higher enrollment.
Murtaugh and Lighthouse Christian will bump up to 1A Division I from Division II. The association lowered the dividing line between the 1A Divisions from 100 students to 85, and those schools moved as a result. Castleford also met the new standard for Division I, but the school won a petition with the association to remain in Division II.
Valley has experienced this sort of class change recently. The Vikings dropped from 2A to 1A Division I after the 2013-14 school year.
One of the most challenging differences between those two classes is that the lower one plays eight-man football while the higher one plays the traditional 11 player game.
Valley athletic director Brian Hardy said there were positives to the classification change six years ago, and he and the school are taking the alteration in stride again this time around.
“I know for a lot of people, it’s a tough transition,” Hardy said. “For us, we were kind of struggling at the 2A level, and I think a lot of people welcomed the opportunity and welcomed the conference we were going to be in. It was a lot of good coaches and a lot of good people and athletic directors to work with.”
The Vikings have found success since joining the Snake River Conference, including four playoff appearances and a runner-up and state championship finish.
Hardy said his football coaching staff handled the change well last time, and he expects that they will again next season.
“We’re adding three more people onto the field, but the hardest thing is that we’re going to be the small fish in the big pond,” he said. “We’ve also had our opportunity to have the other side of that.”
But while the class and conference change will switch things up on the football field, the rest of Valley’s sports will not be affected in the same way. The Vikings will still be able to play its former conference foes, Glenns Ferry, Oakley, Raft River and Shoshone in regular-season games even though they will not be conference matchups. There will just be new opponents for conference games and district and state tournaments.
“We’re still going to see those same faces and walk into those gyms,” Hardy said. “It will just be a non-conference game instead of a conference game.”
Where one team is leaving the Snake River Conference, two more will take its place. Lighthouse Christian and Murtaugh will enter the league next year.
Football scheduling will look different for the two former members of the Sawtooth Conference. The Snake River Conference, which includes Oakley, Raft River and Glenns Ferry (Lost Rivers, Grace and Cahllis are in the conference in football only, and Shoshone is currently not in for varsity football), has its member teams play four conference opponents and four non-conference ones.
Since they are coming from a league that had its teams play seven conference games and one non-conference game, the former Division I teams face the challenge of having to find four new non-league teams to form half of their new schedule.
Lighthouse Christian has perennially fielded competitive sports teams at the Division II level. For example, the Lions’ boys basketball team won the state title last year, the football team was runner-up, and the volleyball team qualified for the state tournament.
Tony Standlee, the boys basketball coach, said there are good things about moving to the Snake River Conference in a higher class, including a smaller, tightly-knit conference.
“I’ve enjoyed our conference, but it’s a big one,” Standlee said.
One aspect the coach is looking forward to is having every regular-season conference game count toward the standings. If a Sawtooth team plays a conference opponent more than once in a season, only one game is counted, and it’s predetermined. That’s not the case in the Snake River Conference.
“It’s kind of a new aspect, and I like it,” Standlee said. “We’ve talked about it before, like why are we playing two games if they don’t count? Now we’re saying it’s going to count, so when we play the Oakleys and the Raft Rivers, we play them home and away and then we play them in districts and it’s going to be competitive.”
Another important result of the classifications finalizing was Canyon Ridge remaining in Class 4A. The Riverhawks’ enrollment of 1,285 students put them just five over the cutoff for 5A, but they won a petition approved by the class’ superintendents to remain in 4A.
The school was one of three, including Nampa and Caldwell, that petitioned to stay in 4A based on factors like participation rates, athletic success, and socioeconomic aspects.
For the smaller schools, moving up to a higher competition level can be a daunting task. Lighthouse’s middle school teams already play several of the Division I teams they will face in coming years, so they have some familiarity with their future opponents.
As for the mindset the Lions’ teams will take against its new competition, Standlee said that all of the school’s programs teach that the opponent doesn’t matter and the effort should still be the same.
“I like to think that we can compete, but until you get there, you never know,” he said.