Pratt High School principal Steve Blankenship is a man on a mission. A member of the Kansas State High School Activities Association Board of Directors, Blankenship leaves tomorrow for Topeka in hopes of securing a positive vote on an initiative he and others have spent countless hours preparing.
The problem is that the largest schools in 4A have an overwhelming population advantage over the smallest schools in 4A— way more of a discrepancy than that which exists in any other classification. Along with principals from Holton and Girard, Blankenship has been working on a proposal to split class 4A into two divisions for certain activities. Due to the unfair competitive imbalance that has plagued class 4A for decades, and is only getting worse, Blankenship wants class 4A to have two divisions based on school population numbers, similar to what 1A has done in recent years.
If the proposal receives a positive affirmation when the Board of Directors meets on Friday, the proposal would then go to the principals of all 64 4A schools to be voted upon. If the proposal passes the Board and a majority of 4A schools, it would go into effect.
Under the proposal, five sports would be affected: baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball and football. Other sports, and activities like forensics, would not be affected. When asked why the proposal would only apply to the five selected sports, Blankenship pointed out that most of the other sports and activities have way fewer than all 64 schools participating. Therefore, splitting an activity that only had, say, 28 schools participating would be farcical. Also, for some activities like wrestling and track, most 4A KSHSAA members indicated they preferred to stay with the large ‘spectacular’ state meets with all 4A schools involved.
Blankenship and his fellow proposers have been very transparent in their preparations. They aren’t trying to “slip anything past anybody.” They have been in contact with all 4A schools and are cognizant of their varying wishes. They have given proponents and opponents of their proposal time to marshal their arguments.
Concerns of those opposed to the proposal include the worry that there won’t be enough qualified officials available if another state tournament/playoff is added. Blankenship answered that by saying that since everyone already plays in the playoffs, all you are really adding is one state championship game or tournament—which shouldn’t tax the referee pool too much.
Some have expressed concern that the bottom half of 4A won’t generate enough revenue at their state championships to cover the extra cost. Blankenship said, “Schools and towns in the bottom half of 4A, like Pratt, traditionally support their teams strongly in state competitions. And they would definitely generate more revenue than they get at 1A and 2A tournaments.”
Page 2 of 2 - Blankenship referred to a rumor that most 1A schools regret having split into divisions, and would vote to reunite if given the chance. “Not true,” Blankenship said. “ Of the twenty 1As I contacted, eighteen of them loved the way the split was working out. It was a great motivator, especially for the smaller schools whose kids now felt like they had a real chance.”
And it really is true that smaller schools in 4A have much less chance of attaining a coveted state championship. Looking at a spreadsheet of 4A schools arranged according to size, it is apparent that schools in the upper ½ , and especially in the upper ¼ , have a hugely disproportionate number of high placings in state competitions, no matter what activity or sport you are talking about. “The bottom 16 schools have no shot,” Blankenship concluded.
One further concern is that it would water down competition, make state championships less prestigious (“there’s EIGHT state champions in Kansas ?!?!”) and perhaps cause some state tournaments/games to be played at less-than-coveted venues. Blankenship replied, “They played 8-man at Newton High School this year. Ask the kids who won it if it means anything less to them because of that, or if they want to give back their trophy.”
There are other things which could be done to address the unfairness of the classification system in Kansas, but Blankenship believes that this proposal, which only affects 4A and therefore will only be voted upon by 4A if it passes the Board of Directors, is the best that can be hoped for unless KSHSAA rules are changed. 5A and 6A schools are not likely to give up their privileged positions regarding competitive imbalance as long as they can stop it—and they can under the current rules.
Without the redress offered by this proposal, the discrepancy between the largest and smallest schools in 4A will only continue to get worse. “They aren’t creating any new small schools,” Blankenship pointed out. As new larger schools are created, it will continue to push ‘smaller’ larger schools down into class 4A, exacerbating the current problem.
So Steve Blankenship heads for Topeka hoping to get his proposal past the next hurdle, which is to get the KSHSAA Board of Directors to agree. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “People have been working on this problem since I was in high school (PHS ’85). It was bad then and it’s only getting worse.” The vote by the Board of Directors is Friday.