The good and the bad of high school sports

The good

Northwest-area schools again showed up and showed out in the various state tournaments. The softball teams from Ironwood Ridge, Canyon Del Oro, Marana, and Mountain View all advanced to postseason play, while the baseball teams from CDO, Ironwood Ridge, Marana and Flowing Wells all had a shot at a state title in their respective classes.

The CDO boys will be going for the second straight state title, while the Dorado girls faced off with their nemesis (and defending state champion) Salpointe last Saturday at Amphi High School.

The boys’ teams from Ironwood Ridge, Flowing Wells, Marana and Mountain View all advanced to state in volleyball, while the girls from CDO made state in beach volleyball.

In girls’ tennis, the CDO doubles team of Scarlett Bakken and Jordan Crawford make a strong run all the way to the final four before losing in two sets to a duo from Catalina Foothills. Bakken and Crawford are both only sophomores, so their future is bright.

The bad

I have always tried to be kind and understanding with the Arizona Interscholastic Association, which has the thankless task of trying to herd the various types of cats who inhabit the world of high school athletics in our state. There are ridiculous parents, out-of-control kids, and shady club coaches trying to skirt the rules in order to suck more money out of the wallets of gullible parents.

The AIA is usually right, but sometimes they are almost gloriously wrong. Two quick examples come to mind.

The AIA website recently had an article about how the boys’ tennis team at Catalina Foothills High School was working on an active stretch where its record was an incredible 140-1 in regular season matches. (How lousy would it be to have been a member of the team that lost that one game?)

I did some research and learned that the Foothills girls had a similar mark, having lost only once in more than 100 regular season matches. I found that loss; it was to big-school powerhouse Desert Mountain (and it wasn’t even close). Both of those teams advanced to state in their respective divisions, but while Foothills cruised to a state championship, Desert Mountain was bounced from the tournament in the second round — not by another team but by a bizarre rule in the AIA handbook.

Each high-school tennis match consists of six singles matches and three doubles matches, so a team can win with a score of anywhere between 5-4 and 9-0. For as long as anyone can remember, some tennis coaches tried to pull a fast one in order to increase their chances of winning the overall match. Say that the coach of Team B looks at the upcoming opponent and realizes that his No. 1 and No. 3 players are both likely to lose their respective singles matches. So he flip-flops them, throwing the No. 3 player to the wolves while having his top player play the opposing No. 3 player. That way, he comes out 1-1 in those two matches instead of 0-2.

That was very common practice for decades until the AIA addressed it. They put in measures to (mostly) keep coaches from doing that. But then they added a kicker that had a devastating effect.

When Desert Mountain went to state that year, they were so devastatingly good that they knew that they would crush their first-round opponent. So, the DM coach, in a noble gesture, allowed some of his lower-level kids to play so they could say that they played in the state tournament.

When they got to the second round, he put his top six players back in the normal lineup. However, the AIA has a rule that says that the roster used in the first round must be used throughout the tournament — no changing of players (except for a verifiable injury) and no changing of the order. The coach didn’t know the rule and his team, which was two-time defending state champion, was disqualified.

There was a weird echo of that rule this year. In beach volleyball, the AIA holds team championships and also holds championships for individual two-person teams. Salpointe won the Division II State championship (they belong in Division I, but you know Salpointe). The top pair for Salpointe was an odds-on favorite to win that pairs title.

Sadly, one of the players, Francesca Pieroni, suffered a broken leg the week before the tournament. But, according to an even-weirder AIA rule, her partner, Megan Muehlebach (the daughter of former UA basketball star Matt Muehlebach), was barred from selecting a different partner, even because of a broken leg!

These rules don’t just pop up out of nowhere. Obviously, at some time in the past, a coach or two have tried to pull a fast one and got caught. Still, it would be nice if rules and regulations could be tempered occasionally with a little bit of common sense.

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