That single word, maybe more than any other, has done more to shape the face of Wyoming high school sports.
Reclassification answers one of the most important questions any team will ever have in pursuit of a championship: Who’s my competition?
Where a school lands in this process dictates schedules, travel, rivalries… and a school that falls on the unfavorable side of the line could be destined for the end of a promising opportunity, or the favorable side of the line an unexpected chance.
It’s no surprise, then, that the reclassification process itself has always been the subject of debate, and change, for the Wyoming High School Activities Association.
At close to a dozen times, the process of how schools are classified has undergone significant changes, driven by changes across the state and the desires, or whims, of the schools involved in the process.
It all starts, though, with a concept that’s easy to grasp but difficult to account for:
Prior to 1940, all sports in Wyoming were in one classification. However, by 1940, the need for a large-school and small-school division led to the first set of classification rules for basketball. Track and field followed suit in 1951; later that year, Wyoming split into the four-classification system we know today for sports like basketball, volleyball and track.
Since then, the largest overhauls to Wyoming’s classification system came in 1974, 1983, 1990 and 2018. And at the end of April, the WHSAA added a new decision to its history of reclassification decisions, affecting classification makeup in significant ways. Each overhaul, though, came with its own set of new rules, sending schools into different classifications and determining how changes would be made.
Here are some of the highlights of Wyoming’s reclassification journey.
- 1940: For the first time, classifications are introduced. The WHSAA splits from one classification to two for basketball: A and B. Class A schools had an enrollment of more than 100; Class B schools were 100 or below.
- 1951: In its next big shift, the WHSAA splits from two classifications to four: AA, A, B and C (B/C stayed combined for track). Class A schools had an enrollment of larger than 500; Class A schools were between 150 and 500; Class B schools were between 51 and 149; Class C schools were 50 or below. (In October of this year, the WHSAA officially changes from the Wyoming High School Athletic Association to the Wyoming High School Activities Association to encompass its expanding scope.)
- 1953: Class A and Class AA are combined for basketball, but not for track and field. A Class C track and field classification starts a few years later, in 1957.
- 1962: Class A and Class AA are split again for basketball. The split for Class AA and Class A schools is set at 500 students.
- 1974: With Class C shrinking as schools opted up to Class B to fill out schedules and play traditional rivals, the WHSAA — instead of eliminating Class C as suggested in a separate proposal — voted in April 1974 to expand Class C’s enrollment limits, changing other classifications in the process. Class AA was set as schools with 600 students or more; Class A schools were set between 200 and 600 students; Class B schools were set from 75 to 200 students; Class C schools were 75 or smaller.
- 1983: Classes are changed from AA/A/B/C to 4A/3A/2A/1A, and the enrollment dividers change as well. Class 4A’s boundary is moved to 650 students; Class 3A is between 250 and 649; Class 2A is between 100 and 249; Class 1A is 99 or smaller.
- 1988: The WHSAA juggles enrollment cutoffs slightly, making 600 the cutoff for Class 4A, 274 the cutoff for 3A and 101 the cutoff for 2A. Representatives from several schools, including Kemmerer and Lander, either challenge or testify in hearings against the changes.
- 1990: For the first time, the WHSAA tries to split classifications based on a set number of schools in a classification rather than a strict enrollment cutoff. The WHSAA adopts a 12-16-20-24 structure, with the 12 largest schools in 4A, the next 16 in 3A, the next 20 in 2A and the remaining 24 in 1A. Also for the first time, football classifications are set differently from other sports as the state expands to five classifications for that sport. Football classification has remained separate from other sports ever since.
- 1991: After vacillating between annual, every-two-years and every-three-years reclassification, the WHSAA sets a once-every-two-years schedule for reclassifying schools.
- 2013: The WHSAA delayed reclassification for one year while debating changes to classifications. However, no significant changes passed the board.
- 2018: For the first time in almost two decades, the WHSAA makes significant changes to classification structure, creating separate structures for a variety of sports. Basketball, volleyball and track changed from a 12-16-20 format to a 16-16-16 format; soccer changed from a 12-team 4A to a 14-team 4A; wrestling, cross country, golf and swimming remained unchanged, with 12 teams in 4A, 16 in 3A and the remainder in 2A (except for swimming, which has no 2A).
- 2023: The WHSAA board voted to return to enrollment cutoffs rather than school number cutoffs for all sports and to standardize classifications across all sports except football, similar to before 2018. In the new guidelines, set to be used for the first time in the 2024-25 school year, schools above 700 students will be 4A; schools from 210 to 699 will be 3A; from 110 to 209 will be 2A; and smaller than 110 will be 1A.
Up next: A closer look at the 1974 decision that saved Wyoming’s four-class structure.