Juneau football program moves up a division, will play large schools

Yet-to-be named team moves to Railbelt Conference

Juneau-Douglas High School lineman Derrick Roberts intercepts a Thunder Mountain pass at TMHS in September. The Alaska School Activities Association approved a football conference realignment Monday that has Juneau in the Railbelt Conference with four other schools. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

As students decide on a mascot for the Juneau consolidated football team, it became clearer Monday which mascots Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain High School students will be rooting against.

 

The Alaska School Activities Association board of directors approved Monday morning a host of conference realignments for its 29 football programs.

Juneau leaves the now-defunct Division II Southeast Conference for the Division I Railbelt Conference, which also includes Wasilla, Colony, Chugiak and Bartlett. Any school with over 900 students is considered Division I, while schools with 451-900 students are considered Division II, according to the ASAA handbook.

The other Division I conference, the Cook Inlet Conference, will feature Dimond, East Anchorage, Service, South Anchorage and West Anchorage.

Rus Schreckenghost, the associate director of the Alaska School Activities Association, confirmed the above makeups of these conferences Tuesday morning with the Empire.

The move from Division II to Division I was already anticipated by Juneau’s consolidation of high school football programs as the combined enrollment at JDHS and TMHS is over 900 students, but the makeup of the conferences hadn’t been decided before Monday.

Juneau School District Director of Student Services Bridget Weiss helped draft recommendations to the board on the matter. One of JSD’s recommendations to the board was allowing teams the flexibility to schedule games closer to home, which are often cheaper.

The board effectively accommodated that request when they chose to maintain two smaller Division I conferences instead of moving to one 10-team conference. Having fewer conference opponents means Juneau will be allowed to schedule more nonconference games against teams like Ketchikan.

“If we got booked into a full conference where every game we played needed to be a conference game, we would’ve had less flexibility. So that was a big win for us,” Weiss said.

Weiss said it was necessary to solidify the conferences before scheduling can be accomplished for the 2018 season. She added the move to the Railbelt Conference comes with a three-year commitment.

As Juneau is promoted from a Division II to Division I team, Fairbanks’ two largest high schools, West Valley and Lathrop, move down from Division I to Division II.

Both teams were members of the Railbelt Conference last season.

Bartlett, who won the Division I state football championship in October, played in the Cook Inlet Conference last season.

There is also a Railbelt Conference in the Division II ranks, and Schreckenghost said it’s likely one of the conferences will change names.

Juneau high school students will vote Feb. 6 for their new combined high school football program mascot. They’ll choose from the Capital City Senators, Orcas or Thunder Bears.


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nolin.ainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @AKEmpireSports.


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