How can Iowa continually turn their heads from helping small public schools even with statistics showing significant reasons why change is needed in athletic classifications?

When our high school years have come to an end and they become nothing more than memories, we tend to look back on our time and remember the “glory days”. Where any trip down memory lane we’re reminded of the days we spent as a high school student or athlete.

As an adult we find ourselves remembering the years our teams may have went undefeated. The years our teams may have won a conference championship. And the seasons that hit the highest success levels, we remember making it to the state tournament to play for our chance to be the best in the state. Sadly, many small public schools are unable to achieve that post-season success that all teams strive for that ultimately makes the best glory days memories.

Throughout the years, much has changed for our high school athletes. With a rising trend in travel ball teams and sports camps that focus on perfecting skills, players have the ability to improve their own personal game that benefits their high school teams.

In several smaller communities further away from big city opportunities, parents are making big sacrifices to help their children advance in their sports. Work nights spent driving kids to a travel team practice upwards of an hour one way or weekends spent on the road for tournaments possibly even further distances to allow their athletes more opportunities for improvement that will eventually not only benefit themselves, but also their high school ball teams.

Parents strive to do everything they can to benefit their children and give the support they need to help them achieve success. Unfortunately, there are factors that create roadblocks that are beyond the parent and athlete’s control.

Some may recognize my name and remember a story I wrote nearly one year ago titled “Should Iowa be forced to level the playing field for small public schools versus private?” This story spread like wildfire across the State of Iowa and beyond as many small public school athletic teams have experienced the same heartache as the Mormon Trail Saints 2018-2019 boy’s basketball team did.

The heartache where a small town team of local boys spent years focusing on their basketball game hoping to make their appearance in the state tournament in post season play to represent their small rural public school. Their dreams were crushed when they met up with the private Grandview Christian team in sub-state action, hailing from a large suburban area that went on to win back-to-back state championships in Class 1A.

After publication of this story, several public schools joined forces shortly after to submit resolutions calling for action by the IGHSAU and IHSAA. The resolution called for both associations to “convene a committee to seriously evaluate the competitive needs of students and schools to experience success and the inequities inherent in a system based solely on enrollment size without consideration of family and community capacity for support and to make a recommendation to a joint board of both associations to resolve this issue in the 2019-2020 school year”.

This became a driving factor for the IHSAA to announce their Classification Committee would hold a special meeting in the fall of 2019. With the last meeting for the Classification Committee held back in 2017, many felt it is an injustice to high school athletes upon hearing the committee only meets once every four years for the evaluations of school classifications. 

Currently Iowa bases the school classifications solely on student enrollment sizes. With this method, private schools located in large cities such as Des Moines where the city population is over 215,000 are able to limit their student enrollment placing them in the smallest classification where they are matched up against small town public schools. These small public schools often times struggle with numbers to complete a team as their town populations often fall beneath 1,000 people.

Across Iowa there are 320 public high schools and yet only 30 non-public, private high schools in the state. With the vast difference in those numbers, outsiders looking in would believe the public schools would have far greater chances to see more success in athletics. In actuality, it is quite the opposite.

Taking at look at current standings within the girls and boys basketball seasons, the stats don’t lie. When viewing the top 20 teams within Class 1A, five private schools sit in the top 20 in the boys ranks. On the girl’s side, four private schools sit in the top 20.

When looking at the previous volleyball season, seven of the top 25 teams across Class 1A were private schools. Remember there are only 30 private high schools across the state, yet they consistently make up a great portion of top teams in most Iowa high school athletics.

Digging deeper we look at the previous football season. With football classifications being broken down differently, one would think the private versus public school issue would be less common. Sadly, this is not the case.

Schools with smaller enrollment numbers participate in eight-man football. Who were the two schools sitting with the top records at the end of the previous football season? You guessed it, two private schools.

With the anticipation from the IGHSAU and IHSAA’s earlier announcement of a special meeting to be held for the Classification Committee, many had high hopes changes would be seen. Unfortunately, the high school athletic associations seem to think time is of no essence for these athletes.

The IHSAA along with the IGHSAU Classification Committee are indeed working on changes, but their focus has shifted to only one area currently. A memo was sent out to Class 4A athletic directors stating, “We are experiencing several 4A games with significant disparity in score. Related to the challenge is the reality that several 4A schools are having difficulty fielding teams without playing underclassmen. The committee believes that is not only an issue of score but also an issue of safety.”

 The first statement regarding the disparity in scores in Class 4A seems to be a bigger issue in small classes. Looking at statistics from 2019 football games, 20 games were played where a 50-point differential existed in Class 4A.

However there were 66 games in eight-man football with a 50-point differential. In Class A, 23 games and in Class 1A 25 games.

When looking at the difficulty to field teams without playing underclassmen, this is a very common issue within small public schools that has been a challenge for many years. Even with the eight-man football game, small public schools are still facing these challenges to put together teams without using underclassmen.

The Classification Committee has planned a meeting for this upcoming Wednesday, Feb. 5 where it is rumored they will be taking action and voting to make changes in Class 4A. While action may be needed within Class 4A football, how can our smaller classes across the entire state of high school athletics continue to be ignored?

Recently, the IGHSAU and IHSAA sent out surveys to be completed by principals, superintendents and athletic directors across the state asking for their individual input regarding sport classifications. The results were made public last week and may make it harder yet for the associations to ignore these challenges schools are facing.

An astonishing 571 survey results came in from across the state with 424 stating there is a competitive equity issue in sports. From these results, 69% believe the associations should make a change.

The answers were varied between reasons why they believed a change was needed. Everything from school enrollment numbers not being an adequate way to evaluate to socio-economics based off of free or reduced student lunches versus suburban demographics to private schools recruiting athletes were given.

While the spreadsheet itself takes a great amount of time to sift through the results and reasoning behind the thoughts, the numbers speak clearly. A majority of these figures within Iowa high schools believe changes are needed and it isn’t only in Class 4A football.

Once high school is over and we begin our journeys in adulthood, we see the hands of time click faster and faster each year. We preach to our own children to bask in the glory of their school years, as it will be over before they know it.

Time cannot be replaced and years cannot be relived. Those four years within the walls of high school are valuable to our children.

We want them to receive their educations to prepare them for the next step in their journey of this thing called life. The students that choose to participate in athletics at this time in their lives should be given a fair shot at success no matter where they come from. Public school or private. Rural areas or suburban. Rich or poor. Every student deserves the same basis to achieve athletic success with his or her team members.

These kids don’t have four years to wait for change. They can’t afford to wait even one year hoping something will give.

I for one sincerely hope the IGHSAU and the IHSAA take a deep hard look at the answers they received from this survey and realize the time for change is now. They owe it to not only the suburban large schools struggling, but also every single smaller public school that faces these issues year in and year out.


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