For the second time in three years, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) has denied Sunnyside High School‘s appeal to drop down from Class 6A to Class 5A in athletic competition.

“Wasn’t surprised,” shared Blue Devils Athletic Director Casey O’Brien. “But, a little bummed. It really is good for our kids to have a better shot at being successful and having a positive season.”

O’Brien’s Sunnyside boys soccer team is a perennial power, and a team that can compete with any school in the state. And, the Blue Devils are known for their wrestling program. However, the same cannot be said for all Blue Devil sports.

“We have a lot of sports that are still emerging and trying to be more competitive so staying in 6A really hurts them,” he explained.

Sunnyside would be the largest Class 5A school. Instead, they are the smallest Class 6A school.

“A lot of our sports, we barely have enough kids to put teams on the field and on the court,” O’Brien mentioned. “And, we do a good job with it. We just don’t have the pool to draw from as far an enrollment.”

And, because Marana, Rincon, and Tucson are all in Class 6A, Sunnyside helps complete a four-team southern division.

“I get the rationale that the AIA has,” he expressed.

Of the 46 schools in the state which are Class 6A, those are the only four from Southern Arizona.

“I’m pretty sure all of them would try to petition down. Class 5A is much more localized in Tucson,” O’Brien described. “So, the travel isn’t so bad.”

It’s that travel that is a major factor. According to the schedule, Sunnyside softball made eight trips to the Phoneix area this past spring.

“As an athletic director, that’s tough because that’s a lot of money. And, that’s a lot of time that kids are missing from school. As a coach, sometimes you go to Phoenix and you don’t get home until midnight. So, it’s a long day,” he shared. “And, you ask your kids to be on time the next day because they are student-athletes.”

It should be noted that football, which does compete in Class 5A, is spared from a challenging Class 6A schedule. O’Brien wishes all his teams were.

“I think there are a lot of reasons for us to be in Class 5A,” O’Brien added. “But, wherever they put us is where we go, and we just make the best out of it.”