Football Class Warfare


I spent Sunday in Fargo at a JO volleyball tournament and got to talking to some North Dakota guys.  They think South Dakota is insane for having so many classes of high school sports... basketball and football, in particular.

I had to agree and I have laid out some numbers on how similar-sized states like North Dakota and Montana and Alaska do it… the un-emotional stuff.

But first, a few personal, emotional responses to the people (media mostly) in South Dakota who rail on the ESD towns and schools for being such a nuisance.

The Kids Don’t Really Care

They're going to play whomever we stupid adults tell them to play.  I remember in 1986 when the state created a third class for high school basketball.  OH, WAIT... I don't remember. As a player, I couldn’t have cared less.  We just wanted to play.  It didn’t matter who it was… we played Washington and Lincoln and Mitchell and Madison and Miller and Flandreau Indian School.  Big and small, because…

In basketball, a school with 700 kids (Huron) can compete with a school with 2,200 kids (Washington).  I’ve got 5 guys and you’ve got 5 guys and some years my 5 guys are gonna be better than yours.


Size Matters In Football

Most years your big school is going to wallop my smaller school.  Enrollment makes a difference in football.  If I have ten "good" players and you have 30 "good" players you are going to win.  So please save the crap about the smaller schools “not making the investment” or not putting forth the effort... the “shut up and get better” argument.  You are wrong.  Kids in Aberdeen and Mitchell are as talented and are working  just as hard as kids in Sioux Falls... there just aren't as many of them.  At the same time, credit is certainly due to Washington and Roosevelt and Lincoln... those coaches and kids have taken advantage of the numbers and the opportunities and turned themselves into powerful programs.

And I know… O’Gorman is the exception.  What that football program has done with an enrollment one-third the size of the big boys is truly remarkable.  They are really in a class by themselves.  We will see whether OG will petition up to play in 11AAA in 2013 when South Dakota will have 7 classes of high school football.

Which goes back to my conversation with the guys from North Dakota.

I did a football class comparison between ND and SD… and then added Alaska because its population is between ND and SD… and then added Montana because it is a neighbor with a lot of similarities to ND and SD.

North Dakota                  Alaska                                South Dakota                        Montana

Population                             684,000                            723,000                                 824,000                                 998,000

# of FB Classes                      4                                            3                                                6                                              5

Largest Class                         AAA                                   “Large”                                      AA                                            AA

* Alaska’s classes are actually called “Large”, “Medium” and “Small”

# of “Big” Schools                 14                                         15                                             16                                           14

Largest School                W. Fargo (1,098)         Anchorage East (2,211)      SF Washington (1,643)     Billings West (1,958)

* ND uses 7-10th grade males, AK and MT use 9-12 total enrollment, SD uses 9-11 total

Smallest “Big” School    Devils Lk. (290)           Palmer (774)                      Douglas (522)           Missoula Big Sky (1,054)

Difference                              808                                     1,437                                     1,111                                        904


So in each state, there are some pretty big enrollment discrepancies in the biggest classes.  And for the most part, it makes a difference.

In Alaska, the biggest school (Anchorage East) has only won one state championship since 2003.  But the third largest school (Service High in Anchorage) has won three of the last four.  Juneau Douglas, the 13th largest school, is the O'Gorman of Alaska... the Crimson Bears were state champs in 2007 and 2005.  The three smallest schools (with enrollments under 900) have been shut out of the football finals in the last ten years.

In Montana, the biggest school (Billings West) has been in the final four of the last seven years.  Helena Capital, the 9th largest school, is the Montana exception... the Bruins have played in six of the last seven championships and won it four times.  The five smallest schools have been in zero state finals in the last ten years.

In North Dakota, the biggest school (West Fargo) won titles in 2002 and 2003 but has not been back since.  Bismarck High (3rd largest) and Fargo South (7th largest) have split the last six state championships, winning three apiece.  The four smallest schools (Williston, Jamestown, Dickinson and Devils Lake... all with enrollments under 500) have not played in a state final since AAA was born in 1997.  (Devils Lake was a AA powerhouse that had to move up this past year.)

And in South Dakota, the biggest school (Washington) has played in the last five state title games and won twice.  Roosevelt (2nd largest) has won three of the last six championships.  O'Gorman (13th largest) is the spoiler... the Knights were second in 2010 and 2006 and champs in 2004 and 2005.  The six smallest schools have not sniffed the DakotaDome turf since Brookings made the final in 2001.

South Dakota is slightly more perplexing than these other states. The Rapid City schools throw a big Black Hills monkey wrench into the enrollment argument, but I am still convinced that the bigs and the littles have gotten too far apart to even call it competition on some nights.

We probably should have kept it at six classes for now... kept the 10 or 12 biggest schools in 11AA and moved Huron and Sturgis and Douglas (and maybe Brookings and Pierre and Mitchell?) into 11A.  We will see.  Maybe 7 will be great!  Anyone?



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