Little more than a year after winning its first boys' basketball state championship in the former Class 1A, the Orme School left the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) when the prep athletics regulatory body began cracking down on boarding schools fielding out-of-state and foreign players.
Orme, an accredited private international boarding school near Mayer, captured the 1A varsity boys' hoops title in 2011 with a group of highly talented athletes from countries as far away as Turkey, Switzerland, England and China.
The AIA subsequently tightened its bylaws by banning tuition-paid international students with F-1 visas, such as those at Orme, from competing in varsity sports at AIA member high schools, effective July 1, 2012. They are still allowed to play at the JV level, however.
"Obviously international students were being brought in (to Arizona high schools), and I don't think it's just Orme," AIA Executive Board Member Bill Gahn said this month. "There were other schools, too, that had international students under the F-1, which are tuition-paid students, or the J-1, which is a foreign exchange program.
"You're looking at probably people coming to schools under tuition, and you're looking at out-of-the-country people being state champions when our state championships should probably go to our state kids."
As a result of the AIA's bylaw change, Orme pulled out of the AIA this past off-season to join the Arizona Charter Athletic Association (CAA), Arizona's largest independent and private school athletic association.
"We appreciate all that AIA membership has offered our students, families, teachers, coaches and alumni," Orme Athletic Director Grant Hendrikse said in a statement on the school's website earlier this year. "The move to CAA is right for Orme School."
Former Prescott High Athletic Director Bill White said Orme's state-championship victory with standout foreign players "was probably one of the straws" that broke the camel's back in AIA amending its bylaws.
"What was happening I think in a lot of cases is that after that happened (Orme winning the title with international players), there were other schools that were going to start doing it," he said.
Gahn added that the AIA tweaked the bylaws because it wanted to make sure international students were coming to Arizona for reasons other than athletics.
"The idea with foreign-exchange students is they come for one year as an exchange student and not come and pay tuition to go to school here and compete in sports," he said.
Over the summer, Orme became a member of the CAA, which offers every sport that Orme currently does, before the 2012-13 academic year.
Phoenix Westwind Prep, which won the 2011 boys' basketball state title in the former 2A ranks with international and out-of-state players, also joined the CAA this fall.
Most CAA schools are in or near Phoenix and are comparable in size to Orme, with enrollments between 100 to 299 students.
K.C. Cassell, Orme's headmaster, said earlier this year that the AIA's decision to prohibit international students from participating in AIA varsity athletics "is counter to the vision and mission of Orme School" and precipitated the institution's move.
"Since 1929, Orme School has enrolled and welcomed local, regional, national and international students to our campus community," Cassell said in a statement on Orme's website.
"Our school mission continues to be about offering an equal opportunity for students to receive a selective college preparatory education, and being able to participate in athletics and health and wellness activities, including interscholastic varsity team sports."