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Board had to bite the bullet

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Living in Utah is a unique experience for many reasons, but one of the most important to me is the geographic diversity.

I love that I can watch a Broadway play on Friday night, and then Saturday morning drive a couple hours to a near desolate, red-rock desert. One of the best parts of my job is traveling to places I've never been and learning a lot more than which team won a game.

The downside to all this space is that it is difficult for schools of similar size to play each other in sporting events without significant travel time. As I've watched the Utah High School Activities Association's Board of Trustees struggle with realigning the state's regions and classifications, I've decided they were dealing with an impossible task.

The reason: It is impossible to have true parity and keep travel time to a minimum. If you accommodate one, then the other suffers.

They're both important issues, and it seemed difficult to balance them without making some school feel slighted. I'm sure plenty of people will look at the final template and find fault. But coming up with a solution that solves every school's unique problems really wasn't possible.

Take for instance the compelling and almost heartbreaking plea of East Carbon on Monday.

The school's principal talked about how valuable it was for her students to travel across the Wasatch Front to schools like Dugway. She even told a story about two eighth graders who'd never been to McDonald's and thought the supersize combo meal was just 39 cents — not 39 additional cents.

Dugway's George Bruce talked about what it was like to be a school of 50 students trying to compete with schools of more than 150. He saw all the accommodations being made for the state's larger schools, and asked that the board not forget the smallest members.

"Walk in our shoes, and try to find out what the difference is between 100 and 150 students," he said. "Give a thought to those who are down around 50 students."

Then there were the compelling pleas from Ogden and Ben Lomond to stay in 3A despite enrollments of more than 1,000 students. They have unique, inner-city problems that include a huge portion of children who can't afford lunches let alone fees to play sports.

And Grand and San Juan are so far from everyone else that no one seemed to want them in their regions.

Over and over the stories were told and the arguments made. They didn't fall on deaf ears, but in the end, as board chairman Louie Long said repeatedly on Monday, "Somebody's going to have to bite the bullet."

Instead of focusing on what the board didn't do, look at how much value there is to some of the things that are difficult and uncomfortable — like playing larger schools and traveling long distances. There are a lot of reasons schools offer extracurricular activities, and the most important one shouldn't be to win state titles.

E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com