South Dakota Adds 7th Class For HS Football

January 12, 2012 / Football
Argus Leader, Jon Walker


PIERRE — South Dakota would crown seven high school football champions starting in 2013 under a plan that survived a contentious hearing Wednesday about fair competition in an era of shifting enrollments.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association board voted 6-2 to approve a plan that received only lukewarm endorsement from its supporters.

“Everybody had to give a little bit, but time will tell if it’s right,” said board chairman Terry Nebelsick, who is superintendent of schools in Huron.

The proposal also would need approval in a second vote in the board’s next meeting Feb. 29.

The change would give the state four classes of high schools playing 11-man football and three playing nine-man football. The current format of six champions, three for 11-man and three for nine-man, would be in effect in fall 2012 for one more season.

The new format would split the state’s largest schools into two classes and break up traditional rivalries. The eight largest schools would be in Class 11AAA. They are Roosevelt, Lincoln and Washington in Sioux Falls, along with Central and Stevens in Rapid City, Aberdeen Central, Watertown and Brandon Valley.

The next nine schools would be in a newly defined Class 11AA. This second group includes Sioux Falls O’Gorman, which would have the option of moving up to 11AAA to join its familiar city rivals in competing for the big-school title. O’Gorman officials will discuss that possibility in a board meeting Tuesday.

Another 45 high schools would be in classes 11A and 11B. Board members took no action to realign the 82 schools playing for three titles in nine-man football but said that would be a future issue.

An audience of 50 people from across the state packed the association’s meeting room Wednesday for a hearing Nebelsick delayed more than an hour because of icy roads.

Population growth in some cities but not others makes change necessary, Nebelsick said. Sioux Falls’ population has nearly doubled since the playoff system began in 1981, and that’s given its three public schools a competitive advantage. Sioux Falls’ three public schools, after winning no titles in the first 25 years of the system, have won the past six.

School representatives disagreed about how to address the imbalance. Five of the schools slated to move down a class won 19 of the first 31 titles. O’Gorman has eight of those titles, Yankton six, Spearfish and Brookings two apiece and Huron one.

Steve Moore, athletic director at Watertown, which won the big-school title in 1996 and 2001, proposed putting schools with 1,000 or more students in one class. That group would be the five public schools in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

Bigger schools not only have a bigger talent pool from which to draw top players, but also a larger number of players to spread around the workload, Moore said. It can be a safety issue, he said.

“Football is a numbers sport,” Moore said.

Sioux Falls would want nothing to do with that suggestion, said Mark Meile, activities coordinator for the Sioux Falls district.

“Don’t make us play for a state championship that has five schools in a division,” Meile told the board.

The board, on a motion by Nebelsick, chose to group the biggest eight and leave midsize schools the option of moving up.

It’s a necessary change for schools with flat or declining enrollments, said Wally Bosch, assistant principal and activities director at Yankton.

Yankton High School’s enrollment now is 687 students in grades 9-11, compared to 1,643 at Washington, the school Yankton beat in 2002 for the last of its six titles.

“We do not want to play schools that are three times our size,” Bosch said.

Steve Kueter, activities director and football coach at O’Gorman, said he doesn’t think South Dakota needs to create the new class. Differences in enrollment tend to mean less with larger schools, he said.

“When you have schools with about 1,000 kids, you can compete with schools of 2,000 kids,” he said.

Kevin Kennedy, assistant principal at Washington, said schools would adapt to the new classification.

“A class of eight is too small, but that’s the way the population is in South Dakota,” he said.

The proposal would use enrollment figures of students in grades 9-11. It would define Class 11AAA as the eight largest schools. Class 11AA would be schools with 425 students in grades 9-11 up to the ninth-largest school. This class, as of now, would include nine schools. O’Gorman or any other school could petition to move up to 11AAA, and if that happens, the smallest school in 11AAA could move down if it wished, so long as it didn’t have 1,000 students. Class 11A would be for enrollment of 200 to 424 in those three grades, with Class 11B for schools with 113 to 199 students.

Board members left the nine-man system intact on Wednesday, but indicated an interest in reducing the number of classes from three to two.

“I believe we will return to six classes eventually,” Kennedy said.

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