KINGMAN - The last major hurdles have been cleared for Kingman Academy High School's move from the Charter Athletic Association to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, but the challenges have just begun.
Some of them include the school's understanding of the 191 pages of rules and regulations for the AIA compared to the 20 pages from the CAA. The other causality of the move is the school's decision to drop the co-ed soccer program after this year.
"I like soccer. That was painful. I sweated over that," said KAHS athletic director Shawn Byrne. "I have a group of disappointed kids, but I have to look at the whole and it benefits the whole."
Currently, KAHS plays soccer in the spring as part of a coed league the CAA offers. However, in the AIA, soccer is generally played in the winter except for Division IV, which plays in the fall.
Byrne told the Kingman Academy of Learning governing board last week that he hopes to bring soccer back in two years when the AIA starts the process of realigning schools and divisions again for the next two year scheduling block beginning in fall of 2015.
The reason why soccer was left off this time around, according to Byrne, was the speed of the application process from the time the school submitted its application to the AIA in November to it being approved in January.
"We expected it to be approved eventually, we just weren't expecting it to be approved in January," Byrne said. "That caught us by surprise."
But while it's disappointing for the team's current sophomores and juniors, who won't have soccer for their remaining high school careers, the decision will give school officials a chance to bring the program back in balance with federal rules.
Currently the KAHS soccer team's roster has 13 boys and five girls, which would be plenty to field a boys team. However, that would put the school in a non-compliance with Title IX, the federal law that says schools must give equal opportunities for both boys and girls.
By dropping soccer, the school remains in compliance with the law.
"Had I just gone boys soccer then I'm in the hole," Byrne said. "You figure 20 kids on a soccer team, that would be 20 positions that the girls don't have."
The school hopes in two years when they look at bringing the program back they can get more girls to come out and have enough to field teams for boys and girls. However, with a student enrollment of 465, that could pose a challenge, as most athletes at KAHS already compete in three-sports. Playing soccer during the winter could take athletes away from the basketball teams.
One option for KAHS is to play soccer in Division IV during the fall. Many of the schools in Division IV have enrollments comparable to Kingman Academy's.
"It would be something to be considered," Byrne said. "It's always in the back of my mind."
But while the soccer team is just one part of the puzzle, the more pressing issue facing the school right now is getting up to speed with the 191 pages of the AIA's bylaws, some governing transfer rules and recruiting - problems that KAHS never faced while competing in the CAA.
"We really emphasize that in the visit, to really understand the bylaws and to apply those appropriately," said AIA executive director Harold Slemmer, noting that Kingman will have three AIA high schools. A year ago at this time, Kingman had only one - Kingman High. Lee Williams High School opened last fall.
"When a kid enters the ninth grade, they are eligible wherever that might be. In the case of a charter school, it's the county that is their attendance zone," Slemmer said. "There is not going to be too much transferring out of Kingman Academy. They come in as a freshman they will be eligible, but once they transfer out of there, they are going to have to sit out for a year."
Because of the complexity of these rules, Slemmer suggested to KAHS that they work closely with the other schools in Kingman and take advantage of Kingman High Assistant Principal Tim Casson.
"Tim is an outstanding resource for them," Slemmer said. "Take advantage of his experience as much as you can. He's been in the business for a long time."
Casson has been with the Kingman Unified School District for 35 years and served as KHS athletic director for the past 14 years before leaving that post at the start of the current school year.
"We've always had a good relationship and I'm sure he will be more than happy to help me," Byrne said of Casson.
Slemmer also suggested KAHS work closely with other schools in the area that are not part of the district, such as Lake Havasu and Bullhead City Mohave.
"They want to make sure that nobody is out of compliance with the rules and one way to do that is to communicate early on," Slemmer said. "When your student does transfer, they have to know where they came from and if they moved."
Despite the challenges facing KAHS, Slemmer is excited for the school to be joining the AIA.
"After talking with the leadership there, I think this has been long overdue," he said. "The one thing they will have is the structure is very good. Now they can depend on the schools going to be there when they are scheduled to play. They are not going to call up the last minute and say we can't make it. That's just not an option with AIA schools."
The part of the move that has KAHS excited is the opportunity to participate in the AIA's victory with honor program. The program is based on six pillars that include trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
"We wanted to be known for our student athletes of high character and this pursuing victory with honor program supports that," Byrne said. "We will be able to utilize that to make sure that they are meeting the standard that we require of them."
That includes an emphasis on the word "student" in student-athlete.
It's something the school has seen great success with. In the middle of their state championship season, the KAHS boys basketball team had a cumulative GPA of 3.6 and the spring sports teams ended the quarter on March 14 with a GPA of 3.27 with 99 athletes.
Next year the school is implementing a new eligibility rule where athletes must have a minimum 2.0 GPA and no Ds.
"We are in the process of raising the standards for grades," Byrne said. "When I started here you needed a 2.0. This year it had to be a 2.0 but you were allowed only one D. Next year you wouldn't be able to have a D. You get a one-time school year warning the first time you have a D, you have to get that up to a C. Nothing less than a C. The student part of student athletes is really important."