Last October, I wrote about whether St. Mary’s High School, which at that time had an enrollment 603 students, should continue to play football against other high schools three to five times its size. At that time, St. Mary’s athletic director Rose Vargas had sent a press release to the local media advocating that St. Mary’s should remain in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s 5A Conference, where the largest high schools in Arizona — those with at least 2,000 students — reside.
“At this date, Saint Mary’s enrollment is 603 students,” Vargas wrote last October. “The average enrollment at other 5A schools is 2,400+. Despite the enrollment disproportion, Saint Mary’s has a long history of success competing at the highest level. The goal and intention of Saint Mary’s High School Athletics is to remain at the Division 5A level.”
While St. Mary’s does indeed have a long and proud athletic tradition, which includes nine football state championships, its last football state title was 16 years ago. It was my feeling last October that “[t]he St. Mary’s teams of 20, 30 and 40 years ago did not have to compete against schools at least three times their size and there is no good reason to continue to ask that of current St. Mary’s students, who deserve the chance to create their own history and tradition.”
St. Mary’s eventually was successful in convincing the AIA to allow it to remain in the large school football division, now called Division I. It was with sadness that I read an article by Richard Obert in this morning’s Arizona Republic about this year’s St. Mary’s football program. Only 28 players showed up for the first week of practice last week, although the St. Mary’s head coach says that he expects to have 42 players on game nights this fall. (I have news for you, coach. If those players are not showing up for the first week of practice, they are probably not going to be of much use to you on Friday nights this fall).
St. Mary’s enrollment is now down to 575 students, down almost 5% from last October. Pride in past accomplishments is great, but what the administration at St. Mary’s is asking of its current students is simply irresponsible. Here is St. Mary’s varsity football schedule for this fall with the enrollment for each opponent.
Date Opponent Enrollment
8/26 North 2416
9/2 Ironwood 1989
9/9 Basha 2320
9/16 Boulder Creek 2374
9/23 Central 2301
9/29 Westview 2514
10/6 Maryvale 2581
10/14 Brophy 2532
10/21 Tolleson 2195
10/28 Alhambra 2690
Taking nothing away from the toughness and skill of the current St. Mary’s players, it is absurd to allow them to play this schedule. To give some further perspective, St. Mary’s would still be among the smaller schools if it competed three divisions down in Division IV, which features such schools as Blue Ridge (876 students), Chinle (1099 students), Holbrook (689 students), Show Low (777 students), Winslow (792 students) and Payson (720 students).
It is well past the time to stop living in the past at St. Mary’s.