By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
As Columbus High School athletics director Todd Napier sees it, the enrollment disparity in Kansas Class 4A is glaring.
Napier recalls a two-year span in the 2000s when Pittsburg and Southeast high schools were in the same 4A football district. Southeast is in Cherokee, Kan., with a population of about 700, while Pittsburg has more than 20,000 people.
“How can you drive through Pittsburg and then drive through Cherokee and think those are the same type of schools? There are still some examples across the state to that extreme,” Napier said.
To Napier’s point, the largest school in 4A is Topeka Highland Park with an enrollment of 729, while the smallest 4A enrollment is Frontenac and St. George-Rock Creek at 258 apiece.
Athletics directors at Baxter Springs, Frontenac and Girard high schools share Napier’s sentiment and are planning to vote for a proposal that would split the 4A sports of football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball into two classifications. The KSHSAA board approved the proposal on Friday, sending it to a vote by the current 64 schools in 4A. Schools must submit a ballot by June 3.
If the measure passes by a simple majority, it will be applied to volleyball, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball for the 2013-14 school year. Since football classifications are done on a two-year cycle and schedules have already been made for this fall, no changes would take effect until the 2014 season.
According to enrollment numbers for 2012-13, Wamego would become 4A Division I’s smallest school with 451 students, and Andale would become 4A Division II’s largest school with 434. As far as southeast Kansas schools are concerned, Pittsburg (710), Independence (576), Fort Scott (562), Chanute (552), Labette County (527) and Coffeyville (462) would be in Division I based on the numbers for 2012-13. Iola (361), Parsons (361), Columbus (343), Girard (335), Baxter Springs (285) and Frontenac (258) would fall into Division II.
“Whatever the state can do to make it more fair for our kids is what the state should do,” Baxter Springs High School athletics director Roger Reynolds said.
The current enrollment disparity from top to bottom in Class 4A is a 2.83 ratio. The second largest ratio among classes 6A-2A is 1.82. If the proposal passes, the new ratios would become about 1.6 for each 4A division.
Eighty percent of the state championships during the previous five school years in football, volleyball, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball were won by the larger 32 schools in 4A.
“Girard has never won a state championship,” Girard High School athletics director Steve Curran said. “We’ve had a lot of good teams over the years, but we’ve never been able to break through. And a lot of times we’ve been beat by one of the larger 4A schools.”
There are exceptions. Highland Park in Topeka is a powerhouse in basketball but finds it difficult to compete in nearly every other sport. Holton, despite being one of 4A’s smaller schools, is a perennial contender in football and won the state title with a 14-0 record in 2012.
Those opposed to the classification split point to increased travel costs for the schools, increased costs to the KSHSAA for creating additional state championship venues, the need for additional qualified referees and umpires and the potential for “watering down” the competition in Kansas. The change means Kansas would have eight classifications, which is more than most states of similar size.
There have been past proposals that targeted the disparity in 4A without adding a classification. However, those options would be more difficult to pass because they would affect more schools, thus making more schools eligible to vote. This proposal allows the 4A schools alone to make the decision.
“This is the option on the table right now,” Frontenac High Schoool athletics director Chad Ulepich said. “We’ve noticed there’s a problem with 4A. There’s a huge discrepancy and this would do something about it. I’m not saying this is the end-all, be-all and would solve all the problems, but it’s moving in the right direction. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
While the schools in the smaller half of 4A have obvious incentives for this to pass, the issue is less clear for the top 32 schools in 4A. Athletics directors at Pittsburg and Fort Scott high schools said they are undecided and will talk with coaches and other administrators before making a decision.
“I understand the disparity,” Pittsburg High athletics director Doug Hitchcock said. “I understand the concept. The only concern would be travel.
“We’re kind of neutral on it. We don’t see a huge negative or a huge advantage for us. We’re going to study it a little more.”