Firstly, it will get a new name, Division 1A. Secondly the classification, which is Nevada’s second-highest of four in terms of competition level, will add 11 new members, all from southern Nevada.
Those 11 Las Vegas-area schools have failed to effectively compete in the 4A, or large-school, ranks over much of the past decade, leading Clark County officials to look for options for the struggling programs.
In cooperation with the NIAA, they found one and the new D-1A was formed. The new classification is set to open for business in 2012-13.
“I do not have any concerns,” NIAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said of the new classification’s formation. “If I did, we would not have moved forward with the decision to make the 1A ... It’s going to be good. It’s going to help those new schools build a different culture and help get them excited about athletics.”
The Rail City’s oldest high school, Sparks, is a current 3A member and set to join the D-1A ranks next fall. Rob Kittrell is the athletic director and football coach at Sparks. He has seen his school’s transition from a 4A member to a competitive, valuable 3A member over the past decade. Kittrell does not expect much day-to-day change for his school’s athletic programs but stressed what little there is, should be positive.
“The changes don’t affect a whole lot unless you get to state,” Kittrell said. “I look at the schools joining the 1A. Faith Lutheran and Pahrump were recently 3A schools anyway. Then there’s schools like Western and Chaparral. Those schools are a lot like Sparks. Schools that for economic reasons, or whatever, have struggled. This change will be great to help them build programs.”
Sparks found itself out of playoff contention for all of its athletic programs during the end of its 4A tenure. When Sparks joined the 3A for the 2004-05 school year, its programs began to experience more success. Boys soccer and boys basketball have become perennial state playoff contenders while baseball and football have both struggled at times but also had some successful seasons.
“I don’t know the number but I’ve heard some of those Clark County schools can’t field JV football teams,” Kittrell said. “That sounds crazy for schools that size, but I get it. I look back and remember what it was like for us, especially after Spanish Springs opened.”
When the formation of D-1A was announced last year, some Northern 3A coaches expressed concerns about playing a league pod system comprised of 3A and 2A schools, but then qualifying for state play to compete against Las Vegas schools, with large-school enrollment figures. Most of those concerns seem to have dissipated.
“The pod system has helped with travel,” Elko High basketball coach Chris Klekas said. “That was a concern of mine originally, but we’ve got some good 2A schools in our pod. If you run your program right, you should be fine. Not much has changed. The Southern 3A schools already play in a 4A league. It hasn’t adversely affected us. You just tell your kids, ‘you better be ready to play.’”
The new D-1A setup should make for more interesting state tournaments that feature fresh faces. The current 3A state tournament always features three Northern teams and a Southern team. That will change to 2-and-2 under the D-1A plan since the South is gaining more member schools.
“We’re really excited for the increased number of schools,” Spring Creek athletic administrator Tim Giere said. “High school athletics have been in a state of flux. We’ve seen a lot of changes in the past few years. This will help stabilize the 3A or D-1A, with more competitive teams.”