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Members of the Sequoia Pathway softball team celebrate their CAA state championship in April at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium. The Pumas defeated Desert Foothills 12-5.

MARICOPA — A long journey finally met its culmination in recent weeks as Sequoia Pathway Academy has been accepted into the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

The AIA is the main sanctioning body for high school sports in Arizona, consisting of the state’s district schools, as well as charter and private schools that desire to compete at the highest level and meet the organization’s standards. Sequoia Pathway currently competes in the charter-filled Canyon Athletic Association.

Beginning with the next school year, the Pumas will compete in AIA’s 2A conference, which includes many of AIA’s smaller schools, while not limiting sports like football to number restrictions like they do in the 1A conference. Junior high sports will continue to compete in CAA.

After years of testing the waters to see if they would get in, the school found out on Jan. 23 that they had been preliminarily approved. They still had to go on a ballot of AIA member schools, and that was finalized in the next few days.

“This is going to be a big change but it’s going to be an exciting change,” said Pathway Athletic Director Glen Hale. “It’s an exciting time for us to move up. I would say there’s always questions about how it’s going to be, but I think all around it’s good for our kids.”

Depending on the sport, there are more than 40 teams in 2A. In football, they are grouped with powerhouse Santa Cruz Valley out of Eloy, as well as Antelope Union, Catalina, Santa Rita and Tanque Verde. In all other sports, they are in the Valley section that includes Arete Prep, Chandler Prep, Gilbert Classical, Horizon Honors, Rancho Solano Prep and San Tan Charter.

The Pumas will be rolling out a full slate of teams when they make their AIA debut, competing in cross country, football, volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball, wrestling, golf, softball and spiritline.

Hale said some of the final hurdles the school needed to complete was to work with the city for the possibility of more traffic — he called the city a great partner in the process — while getting accreditation up to standard for AIA. He said all its facilities were deemed adequate for moving up, which including hosting football games at Pacana Park.

Now that they are in, how they will be able to compete remains a big questions. The Pumas have been dominating in some sports like football, girls basketball and softball, but it’s hard to compare that to AIA.

“I don’t think there’s any way to assess it,” Hale said. “I think we’re going in with the attitude of showing up to compete, whatever that looks like. The competition is going to be different than what we’re used to. It’s going to be a chance for us to grow.”

While the school across town is moving all the way up to 6A, which is the highest level of competition in 5A, Pathway simply being in AIA means they could potentially play an all-Maricopa matchup in the coming years. Hale said he’s very open to the idea, as a basketball game with Maricopa High would be an exciting opportunity, but that will all have to worked out in the coming months.

“It’s good four our city,” Hale said. “I think of ‘Friday Night Lights’ when their city shuts down. I see that possibility with basketball. So I’m welcoming and looking forward to that.”

With the higher stature of being an AIA school also comes the hope of being more attractive to kids who want to play sports and potentially getting scholarships, since they will get more exposure compared to CAA schools.

“It’s going to be an opportunity for our kids to showcase that they can compete at a higher level,” Hale said. “I wholeheartedly believe our kids can.”

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