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Small schools get a lift

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Players like these from Rowland Hall-St. Mark's are benefiting from the new 2A classification.

Players like these from Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s are benefiting from the new 2A classification.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

For years, soccer enthusiasts at 1A and 2A schools around the state hoped to see the creation of a classification for themselves.

It took a lot of grit and effort, but the new league is now a reality.

Girls soccer crowned a Class 2A champion last October, and boys soccer kicked off its inaugural 2A season a month ago. While the new classification is currently composed primarily of schools with previous soccer experience, a number of new schools will be joining the fray shortly.

All of which should offer young players in rural areas around the state the chance to compete in sanctioned high-school soccer for years to come. And those that fought to create the league — from St. Joseph athletic director Alex Salvo to Beaver coach David Howard — are enjoying the fruits of their labor.

"This is just great," said Salvo.

Throughout his three-year tenure on the UHSAA Board of Trustees, Salvo worked tirelessly with others to help create a new classification for girls and boys soccer.

Before this year, smaller schools had two options: Play up in 3A or — if you were a 1A school — compete in Region 17, a stand-alone league that concluded with a region tournament.

Now all those schools have their own classification. A few resisted the change — most notably Waterford, which had already established an outstanding program in 3A — but it was nonetheless approved a year ago.

Salvo credited Howard, as well as several others in Central and Southern Utah, with helping to bring the new league to fruition.

"They are the people who did the ground work for this to come through," he said.

Waterford will jettison the new league to move back up to 3A next year, but it will be up to the new guys to try and catch established programs like St. Joseph and Rowland Hall.

"A lot of schools will get stronger with time; we've just got to give them time to build their programs," said Salvo.

Even so, simply the fact that they now get to play has been the thrilling thing. For example, Beaver has struggled to get wins in its inaugural season, but enthusiasm has been brimming around the 2A school's soccer program.

"The day of tryouts, I had several players come up to me and say, 'Life starts today,'" said Howard. "They're just extremely excited about having the season."

Next year, the Beavers, who have a solid sophomore class, should have lots of company. Before the new 2A classification was created, the squad competed in a club league with teams from Manti, Gunnison, North Sevier, South Sevier and Richfield. According to Salvo, all five will be sanctioned next year.

Meridian wasn't able to field a team in 2007, but it could have one next year.

And other schools should be on the way, too.

Opponents of the new league often told Salvo the UHSAA should wait until more schools had sanctioned soccer. In response, he often quoted the movie "Field of Dreams."

"If you build it," he told them, "they will come."

So far, they have definitely come.

E-mail: drasmussen@desnews.com