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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Are eight classes too many?

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    Who out there doesn't remember the 1986 movie "Hoosiers"?
    When outnumbered and outsized Hickory High School got to the state finals against a team from South Bend, and against all odds beats the behemoths in a thriller. In real life, Milan High School — enrollment 161 — downed the much bigger Muncie Central 32-30 for the 1954 state title.
    Until 1997 Indiana had just one classification for high school basketball. Every Indiana High School Athletic Association member competed for just one state title. Only four teams went to the final round of the state tournament.
    Lets fast forward 60 years to the upcoming Kansas State High School Activities Association state basketball tournaments. There will be eight state champions named among the 354 member schools. There will be 64 teams advancing to the state tournaments.
    The main change came in Class 4A, which will be split into two classes. This comes two years after the same thing was done in Class 1A.
    Kansas had just one state tournament in basketball from 1908 to 1924 (The University Invitational Tournament, run by the University of Kansas, was recognized as state champion from 1908 to 1915). The tournament was divided into Class A and Class B from 1925 to 1940. There were three classes from 1941 to 1951 and then four classes from 1952 to 1969. There were five classes from 1970 to 1978 (AA, A, B and BB were changed to 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A in 1970).
    The six-class expansion began in 1979 and ran through 2010.
    Kansas had its "Hoosier" moments in the one-class era. Halstead won the first two state boys' basketball titles. Clay County, Iola and Reno County (Nickerson) won boys' basketball titles in the single classification.
    The pressures that started the recent splits began when some of the biggest districts in northeast Kansas, and later in suburban Wichita, started pushing schools down into lower classifications.
    School like Winfield, McPherson and El Dorado — all longtime Class 5A members — were pushed down into 4A. In the last classification count, Topeka Highland Park was the largest 4A school at 729 students in grades nine through 12. Frontenac was the smallest at 258.
    Class 6A and 5A both have large ranges as well (2,276 to 1,336 for 6A and 1,333 to 734 for 5A), but there was no interest in pairing those classes any further. (Newton at 1,007 is solidly in the middle of Class 5A and won't likely change classes anytime soon).
    The smaller 4A schools were complaining that it was becoming harder to be competitive with the incoming bigger 4A schools. A proposal last year that would have cut 4A from 64 teams to 48 teams was rejected, mainly from the 3A, 2A and 1A schools that would have gone through the chaos of restructuring.
    Since the proposal splitting 4A into two divisions involved just the 4A schools, the rest of the classes didn't have much to fear from the proposal.
    Page 2 of 2 - Personally, I have always felt six classes in Kansas were too much. Growing up in Ohio (I graduated in 1980), we only had three classes. Today, there are seven in football and four for all other sports. A state basketball title in Kansas takes between five and six wins. A state basketball title in Ohio takes between nine and 11 wins.
    I think one of the effects of Kansas' structure is smaller attendances at state events. Outside of state track, where everything is run at once at Cessna Stadium in Wichita, Kansas doesn't garner a lot of interest in state tournaments. The Division I state football finals in Ohio could easily draw 50,000 people in a given year. In Kansas, crowds seem to top out at about a 10th of that.
    I know there have been grumblings from some quarters (especially Hays), about lower attendance at state volleyball and basketball due to the split in Class 1A (fear not, Dodge City has expressed a willingness to host at its new arena).
    To Newton's credit, the state eight-man games draw well, but Fischer Field is a small stadium and the schools that attend the eight-man finals are very small.
    If I were Lord, King and Sovereign of the KSHSAA, here is how I would do it. First, I would cut it all down to four classes. Instead of going top 32 schools (Class 6A), next 32 (Class 5A), 64 (Class 4A), 64 (and so forth), 64 and the rest, I would do it by range.
    While probably not exact, I would do it something like this (if I plugged all the attendance numbers in a computer, it would probably give me a more exact reading) — 1,000 and over Class 4A (or Division I), 500 to 999 Class 3A (Division II), 200 to 499 Class 2A (Division III) and 199 or below Class 1A (or Division I). These numbers could also be adjusted for each sport.
    I would also add in a 1.75 multiplier for private schools with 500 or more students and a 1.5 multiplier for private schools with fewer than 500 students.
    Yes, it would make winning a state title hard. But state titles are supposed to be hard. The alternative may be dividing the KSHSAA into 354 classes and giving everybody a state title at the end of the season.
    Mark Schnabel is the sports editor at the Kansan
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