Phoenix St. Mary's, Mesa Westwood need to put the kids first

Phoenix St. Mary's, Mesa Westwood need to put the kids first

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Phoenix St. Mary's, Mesa Westwood need to put the kids first

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The football seasons for Phoenix St. Mary’s and Mesa Westwood will end Friday. The future of the two programs will be decided by Wednesday.

That’s the deadline for schools to decide whether to appeal up or down a division, and Westwood and St. Mary’s are just two of several football programs — particularly in Division I — that are contemplating a drop down in order to be more competitive.

It must be painful for the schools to even consider such a move. St. Mary’s was once a dominant program, winning four state titles (1995, 1991, 1985, 1984) under legendary coach Pat Farrell. Westwood won the state championship in 1988 and was the runner-up as recently as 2000.

But that was then. This is now:

St. Mary’s has 28 players on its varsity roster this season. It’s lost five games by at least 40 points and hasn’t had a winning season since 2006. In terms of enrollment, St. Mary’s is the seventh smallest school with an initial placement in Division IV for next fall.

Westwood has dropped eight consecutive games since winning its season opener and has been outscored 346-87 in those losses. The Warriors have had one winning season since 2005, and they’re 1-21 in their past 22 games.

Common sense dictates a move into Division II for both schools, yet St. Mary’s seems hesitant to make the move. St. Mary’s Athletic Director Greg Fahrendorf said “things are going well here” and noted that freshman enrollment has increased from 100 two years ago to 150 this school year. He also said that more students are “transferring in than transferring out.”

Westwood Athletic Director Reggie Castro declined comment, saying a final decision has yet to be made. Mesa Public Schools Athletic Director Steve Hogen said his advice to Westwood was simple: Gather information so it can determine “if you have a compelling reason to appeal down and a compelling reason not to.”

Hogen sounded as if he would recommend a move to Division II. While admitting the old-school part of him wants Westwood to remain in Division I, he acknowledged that the changing landscape — open enrollment, destination schools, etc. — will make it difficult for the football program to compete, much less challenge for a state championship.

“If you ask you can probably tell where I’m leaning,” he said.

The schools’ decision shouldn’t be handcuffed by their past. It isn’t 1985 anymore. Heck, even 2005 is ancient history when it comes to football. Times change. Populations shift. Demographics have as much to do with winning and losing as Xs and Os. The simple truth is that St. Mary’s and Westwood can’t win in Division I, and that fact won’t change in the next two-year scheduling block.

Nor should the schools be concerned about losing traditional rivalries. If Westwood still wants to play Mesa schools such as Dobson and Mountain View, request those matchups to the region chairs. The same goes for St. Mary’s and its annual game against Phoenix Brophy.

“Every two years we look at where we’re at and make the best decision for the students,” Fahrendorf said.

If that’s the case, neither school can make a legitimate argument for remaining in Division I. Players in both programs should have some hope when they convene for practice in August. Friday nights shouldn’t be full of 40-point losses.

Might Westwood and St.Mary’s struggle in Division II? Sure. But they’d also have a better chance to succeed.

Plus, it’s not as if a move to Division II is permanent. If, after two years, either St.Mary’s or Westwood has had a football renaissance it can go back to Division I beginning with the 2015 season. For now, however, the programs need to swallow their pride and do, as Fahrendorf said, what’s right for the kids.

Because these days, it’s not about state championships for Westwood and St.Mary’s.

It’s about survival.

Reach Bordow at scott.bordow@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.

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