Marshall: Class 4A proposal hits a sore spot


With its narrow 35-27 vote a week ago, the Board of Directors of the Kansas State High School Activities Association have given the green light to 64 schools in Kansas, all Class 4A, to separate into two divisions.

With its narrow 35-27 vote a week ago, the Board of Directors of the Kansas State High School Activities Association have given the green light to 64 schools in Kansas, all Class 4A, to separate into two divisions.

It's not the first time this move has been made. And perhaps it won't be the last.

But it should be.

When KSHSAA began administering boys high school basketball championships more than a century ago, there was simply one classification for the entire state of Kansas. Big vs. small, it didn't matter. That remained the format until 1925 when schools were divided into Class A and B, with Class B being comprised of schools with 200 or fewer students.

It was another 16 years, 1941, before a third class was thrown into the mix. Class AA schools had enrollments of more than 475; Class A had enrollments between 151 and 45, inclusive, and Class B all the schools with enrollments of 150 and below.

In 1952, the year I was born in Syracuse (I doubt there was any connection to this), a fourth class was added. Class BB included schools with enrollments of 60 or fewer students.

It would be nearly two decades before Kansas high schools and the association leadership, in its infinite wisdom, decided to expand its classifications once again. That came in 1969, my senior year at Syracuse High School. It was also the first year of high school football playoffs, with an antiquated point system established to determine four district champions across Kansas.

Another decade went by before the Sunflower State high schools added its sixth classification. It was 1979 when Class 6A became a reality. Since then, classifications have remained fairly constant, with the exception of 1983 when Eight-Man football was divided into Division I and II. Evidently, the larger schools of Eight-Man were winning more of the state championships, thus the schools involved voted to split. Today, Eight-Man football is equally divided with 52 schools in each division. Enrollment in the 'big' schools ranges from 59 to 99 and in the 'smaller' division it is 58 and fewer students.

Just three years ago, KSHSAA in response to another vocal group of Class 1A schools, saw that group vote to divide basketball, volleyball and scholars bowl into two divisions, thus creating more "opportunity" to compete at the state level.

Many veteran coaches at the time felt like it would water down and diminish the quality of the state tournaments. After three years, one could certainly make that argument. No doubt, a school with 90 to 100 students have a bigger pool of students to choose from for its athletic teams than those with 25 to 59 students. However, nobody ever said that winning a state championship in any sport should be an easy accomplishment. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that the small schools can and do beat the bigger schools (see the movie Hoosiers).

Now, the Class 4A schools are the ones howling, clamoring for two divisions. They base their argument on the enrollment ratio of their class (2.83) as compared to four other classes (6A-1.70), (5A-1.82), (3A-1.61) and (2A-1.56). There's not much you can do about 1A (6.73) except do what the small class did by making two divisions. Welcome to KSHSAA's new version of 1A-I and 1A-II and Eight-Man I and II.

With its vote on April 26 at its spring meeting, the KSHSAA board authorized its 64 Class 4A member schools to cast a ballot in favor of splitting into two divisions, I and II for the sports of football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball. Geography, which translates into travel time, will be big issues for school districts to decide.

In talking Wednesday with Class 4A athletic directors from Ulysses (which will be 4A-I) and Hugoton (which will be 4A-II), the schools potentially may make different decisions. Hugoton AD Clint Merritt said his discussions with the school's superintendent and principal indicated they would vote in favor of the division. Ulysses' Jason Kenny wasn't quite sure yet how the Tigers' administration and school board will vote. Their issue is stickier due to the distance of other Class 4A schools that would be placed into their football district and also sub-states or regionals for the other sports.

What's missing in this discussion, and seems quite clear it should be addressed, is a total overhaul of how schools are classified. There has been unofficial proposals that would create classes of 48 schools at the 6A-5A-4A-3A levels, leaving 64 schools for Class 2A and the remaining 98 assigned to Class 1A. Currently, there are 32 each in 6A and 5A, 64 in 4A, 3A and 2A and 98 in 1A. With that potential change, 2A and 1A remain the same.

But 6A and 5A schools apparently like their situation just the way it is. The smaller schools, apparently, like their set-up as well. Class 4A, whose current ratio of 2.83 (258 to 729 students) is way out of line with all the other classes, except 1A. Going to a 48-school classification from 6A down to 3A would create ratios of between 1.49 to 2.33, significantly closer than what 4A now has to deal with.

It's a shame that there cannot be a dialogue, a serious discussion, as to how to equalize and create a more fair classification system.

Nobody should feel an entitlement to winning a state championship or even to qualify to compete in a state tournament. Those should be earned.

Don't be surprised, though, that by mid-summer, there will be a two division system for Class 4A. It only takes a majority vote for it to be approved.

Give me a good four classification system that existed back in the 1950s and 1960s and it seemed to work quite well. More, in this case, is not necessarily better.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at

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