Athletic director presents ‘overwhelming’ evidence that Kansas high schools want to increase competitiveness across classifications

Bishop Miege's football program has proven it can compete with 5A and 6A schools in the Eastern Kansas League – but its low enrollment means the school can't compete for a big class state title.
Bishop Miege’s football program has proven it can compete with 5A and 6A schools in the Eastern Kansas League – but its low enrollment means the school can’t compete for a big class state title.

TOPEKA — A presentation by Paola athletic director Jeff Hines and Girard middle school principal Randy Heatherly to the Kansas State High School Activities Association Executive Board on Wednesday may be the first step toward increasing competitiveness in high school athletics by allowing low-enrollment but high-performing schools like Bishop Miege to play against bigger programs for a state title.

Hines and Heatherly proposed a change to Kansas statue 72-130, Section 1(5), which states KSHSAA must “Establish a system for the classification of member high schools according to student attendance.”

The two are trying to strike the final four words of the statute so the framework for a potential classification modifier or enrollment multiplier could be put in place. But in order to do so, Hines believes the support of KSHSAA is necessary to enact change in the legislature.

Hines and Heatherly presented their findings of a survey they conducted over winter break a few weeks ago. The two sent a two-question survey to athletics directors and principals at 355 member schools. Hines and Heatherly received responses from 284 schools, an 80 percent response rate.

“Could a grassroots effort force the legislature to listen to its constituents? Sure,” Hines said. “I think it’s a difficult path; achievable, but difficult. If KSHSAA comes forward and says, ‘We’ve listened to the 355 member schools and the 284 that responded to that survey’ and say, ‘we want this change,’ it’s much, much easier.”

Of the respondents, 82 percent indicated “yes” to the question: “Would you support the KSHSAA Classification System implementing a ‘modifier’ for ‘selective enrollment schools?” Selective enrollment schools are defined as a school that can decline admission/enrollment to a student that resides within that school’s public school district or designated geographic area.

After the hour-long presentation, executive members said they wouldn’t rush to make a decision and would take the findings presented back to their respective leagues, classifications and geographic areas to discuss. However, KSHSAA released a statement Wednesday evening stating, “The KSHSAA Executive Board expresses no opposition to their proposed revision of K.S.A. 72-130, Section 1(5) which states the KSHSAA shall: “Establish a system for the classification of member high schools according to student attendance.”

While it wasn’t the support Hines was hoping for he said it was “a move off-center.”

“It’s far from a ringing endorsement when they issued that statement saying they offered no opposition, however, I’ll take that for day one,” Hines said Wednesday night after KSHSAA released the statement. “Last year they maintained neutrality. Now they’ve changed their wording a little bit. My sincere hope is this is a starting point with them, that they are still going as they, loosely, discussed today the idea of having a special board meeting and addressing it in February. That’s what I’m going to be asking that they do in the coming days.

“Go ahead have that special session, declare support in February and that gives us the ability to work the legislature from February to May,” he said. “If we wait until the March meeting then it’s probably going to be too late for this session to get a lot of work done.”

Hines said it would be expecting a lot of the board to, after five minutes of being bombarded with overwhelming information to make vote “yes.”

Hines and Heatherly’s survey found 40 percent of respondents preferred a modifier like Oklahoma, which bumps schools up one classification based on success on a sport-by-sport basis. The second most popular option was a multiplier similar to the 1.35 multiplier Missouri has in place, which applies to all sports.

All Kansas classifications showed majority approval with Class 4A showing the highest at 92 percent and Class 6A, which currently doesn’t have a private school in the classification, showing the lowest at 64 percent.

Hines also compiled championship data from 2004-14, which shows private schools comprise 8 percent of the membership, but have won nearly 32 percent of the state championships. He found 37 percent of private schools won five or more titles during this time period while only 3.6 percent of public schools were able to accomplish this feat.

Taking it a step further, he found 22 percent of private schools won 10 or more state titles in the same time period while less 1 percent of public schools were able to achieve that amount of success (0.009 percent).

This isn’t a Bishop Miege or Bishop Carroll or Kapaun Mt. Carmel problem. Hines gave Bishop Ward baseball as an example. They are tradition-rich and have enjoyed much success unlike other sports such as football, basketball or volleyball.

“They’re going to stay moved up one classification in baseball, but the other sports where they haven’t enjoyed that rich tradition or success in recent years can apply and ask to stay where they’re at. Meaning if (the school as a whole) is moved from 4A-II to 4A-I, baseball has to stay there because of the success, but their other activities like girls basketball gets to come back down and stay down.”

What it boils down to, as Shawnee Mission North assistant principal Annette Gonzalez said during Hines’ presentation, was participation numbers at SM North look vastly different than the numbers at Blue Valley.

“I will tell you that it’s vastly different still at Blue Valley than you have at Miege or Aquinas,” Hines said. “You’re talking to a private school parent.”

Hines sends his children to Holy Trinity Catholic School in Paola. He supports the private-school model whole-heartedly.

“The involvement of parents at our daughters’ school with the activities and how actively they are in their life looks vastly different than the same thing at the public school locally,” Hines said. “No matter how these student athletes end up at these schools, and how these schools become successful, they’re different and they need to be treated differently.”

Hines said it’s not about state championships, but about the opportunity for the students to feel success. That success might end as state runner-up or in a third-place game or it may end in the sub-state championship.

It’s the idea the students can work their very hardest knowing they can legitimately can dream of the ultimate prize.

“If Miege is moved out of 4A is it too easy for state championships to be won by Paola or Louisburg or Basehor-Linwood, who had a terrific football season?” Hines said. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy at all. I’m not going to say it’s more difficult because the impossibility is gone, but you still have to show up every round of the playoffs and be prepared. It would know way be easy and that state championship at the end would probably mean even more because they knew what it took to beat a town that’s nearly the same size as them with the same participation rate.”

KSHSAA executive director Gary Musselman said the devil is in the details as to what the landscape would like. If schools are moved up, does that mean the schools that were already in that classification stay there or do some move down to keep the balance?

“We have to move the roadblock at the state level first so that member schools are willing to invest their time and efforts in drafting a proposal and being able to spend time answering those tough questions,” Hines said.

Paola athletic director Jeff Hines presents his finds of a survey sent to 355 member schools. More than 80 percent said they would like to see a modifier in place.
Paola athletic director Jeff Hines presents his finds of a survey sent to 355 member schools. More than 80 percent said they would like to see a modifier in place.