The competitive struggles for the schools at the bottom of Class 3A aren’t revelations. In fact, they were the crux of a five-classification proposal made in 2012 by the Wyoming Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association — a proposal so tempting that the WHSAA delayed reclassification for a year to discuss it before ultimately rejecting it.
The problem in the WIAAA proposal was the difficulties inherent in five classifications, such as increased travel and problems with scheduling state tournaments, were just too much for the WHSAA to overlook.
The WIAAA was onto something, though. Its proposal tried to address the issues with competitiveness and with the shrinking schools in Class 3A. Just one look at what the WIAAA’s proposal would have done to 3A (shrink it from 16 to nine schools) and what it would have done to 1A (add one school) makes that clear.
The issue is 3A. Obviously.
But Wyoming doesn’t need, and can’t accommodate, five classifications for all of its sports. The WHSAA was right to reject the WIAAA proposal. With only 71 high schools, and only 67 that consistently offer the traditional gamut of volleyball, basketball and track, this state does not have enough schools and has too much distance between them to justify five classes for all its sports. We’ve seen what five classes and scheduling for competitive equity did to football — games got worse as travel distances increased.
The time for change is near, though. The next reclassification cycle, which will classify schools for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, will give the WHSAA a unique opportunity. Thunder Basin High School is scheduled to open in Gillette in the fall of 2017. It will likely be a fully fledged 4A school by the fall of 2018. By default, TBHS’s entry into the Wyoming high school sports scene will force changes beyond Gillette; at minimum, the smallest 4A school (now Jackson) would go to 3A, the smallest 3A (now Lyman) would go to 2A, the smallest 2A (now Upton) would go to 1A.
I think a tweak to the existing classification system — one that would be timely given the changes TBHS’s classification will spur — might prove helpful.
In the fall of 2018, the WHSAA should move 3A’s four smallest schools to Class 2A for all sports except football. That small change would help redraw Wyoming’s classification boundaries at 12-12-24-rest, as Class 2A would expand from 20 to 24 schools. Class 1A would go from 21 to 22 schools (24, if you count Arapahoe Charter and Fort Washakie Charter) to accommodate the bump from Thunder Basin.
Such a move could also brings up the opportunity for congruence between Wyoming’s football and basketball classifications, something that hasn’t happened since 1990 when the state moved to five classifications for football. With existing programs, 11-man football could be split into four equal divisions of 12 schools apiece based on the cutoffs for all other sports. (Class 4A football would go from 10 to 12 schools and 2A and 1A 11-man from 14 to 12.)
Using enrollment figures used for the 2016-18 reclassification cycle, here’s how the classifications (and, for argument’s sake, potential conference alignments) would shake out:
For all sports but football
4A East: Gillette, Thunder Basin, Cheyenne East, Cheyenne South, Cheyenne Central, Sheridan.
4A West: Kelly Walsh, Natrona, Rock Springs, Laramie, Evanston, Green River.
(Alternatively, a quadrant system of Gillette, Thunder Basin and Sheridan in the Northeast, Cheyenne schools in the Southeast, Casper schools and Laramie in the “Central” and Rock Springs, Green River and Evanston in the Southwest.)
Largest school: Kelly Walsh (ADM 1893). Smallest: Green River (ADM 873).
3A East: Riverton, Douglas, Lander, Rawlins, Torrington, Buffalo.
3A West: Jackson, Star Valley, Cody, Powell, Worland, Pinedale.
(Alternatively, a quadrant system of Riverton, Lander and Rawlins in the “Central,” Douglas, Torrington and Buffalo in the “East,” Cody, Powell and Worland in the Northwest and Star Valley, Jackson and Pinedale in the Southwest.)
Largest school: Jackson (ADM 742). Smallest: Pinedale (ADM 299).
2A Northeast: Newcastle, Moorcroft, Big Horn, Tongue River, Wright, Sundance.
2A Southeast: Wheatland, Glenrock, Burns, Pine Bluffs, Southeast, Lusk.
2A Northwest: Thermopolis, Lovell, Greybull, Rocky Mountain, Shoshoni, Riverside.
2A Southwest: Mountain View, Lyman, Big Piney, Kemmerer, Wyoming Indian, Wind River.
Largest school: Wheatland (ADM 272). Smallest: Riverside (ADM 90).
1A Northeast: Upton, NSI, Midwest, Hulett, Kaycee, Arvada-Clearmont.
1A Southeast: Lingle, Guernsey, Hanna, Rock River, Glendo, Chugwater.
1A Northwest: Burlington, Dubois, St. Stephens, Meeteetse, Ten Sleep.
1A Southwest: Saratoga, Cokeville, Snake River, Farson, Encampment.
Largest school: Upton (ADM 87).
4A and 3A: Same as other sports.
2A-Division 1 East: Wheatland, Newcastle, Thermopolis, Moorcroft, Glenrock, Burns.
2A-Division 1 West: Mountain View, Lyman, Lovell, Big Piney, Kemmerer, Greybull.
Largest school: Wheatland (ADM 272). Smallest: Greybull (ADM 176).
2A-Division 2 East: Big Horn, Tongue River, Wright, Sundance (Upton-Sundance for football), Pine Bluffs, Southeast, Lusk.
2A-Division 2 West: Wyoming Indian, Rocky Mountain, Wind River, Shoshoni, Riverside, Cokeville (likely opt up), Saratoga (co-op with Encampment forces move up).
Largest school: Big Horn (ADM 159). Smallest: Riverside (ADM 90). (Riverside’s continuation in six-man football if desired is easily accommodated, as is Upton-Sundance, either as a co-op or as two independent programs with Upton in either 11-man or six-man.)
1A Northeast: NSI, Midwest, Hulett, Kaycee.
1A Southeast: Lingle, Guernsey, Hanna, Rock River. (or a combined 1A East)
1A Northwest: Burlington, St. Stephens, Meeteetse, Ten Sleep.
1A Southwest: Dubois, Snake River, Farson. (or a combined 1A West)
Largest football school: Lingle (ADM 83). (All 1A football would be six-man. Technically, both Upton and Saratoga would be classified as six-man schools but would likely compete in 11-man due to existing co-ops, while it’s likely Cokeville, a 1A program, would opt up to 2A for football.)
For all sports except football, four classifications is the right number. How Wyoming arranges those four is the problem.
The 12-16-20-rest setup worked when established in 2001. It doesn’t work as well now.
No solution will fix all the problems. Someone will always be the big school, and someone will always be the small school. I fear a 12-12-24-rest setup may just shift 3A’s competitiveness problems to 2A. However, I do think this tweak will help close the gaps between the biggest and smallest schools in every class except 2A, and I think competitiveness at the 2A level will be evened out by the number of schools in the classification. Both competitiveness and shrinking school size, especially in Class 3A, can be addressed with this change.
For perspective, let’s look at the sport that’s been more or less ignored in this discussion so far: football.
Since 2001, Wyoming’s non-football classification structure has remained the same. Football’s classification structure in that same time period, meanwhile, has seen at least one change with every single reclassification cycle, with the notable exception of the transition from 2015 to 2016.
It’s absurd to think that football’s classification system deserves biannual tinkering and the system used for the rest of the state’s sports does not.
Fortunately, I think, the answer is simple. And one small change could set the course for Wyoming for another decade.
Do you have ideas for changing Wyoming’s high school sports classifications? Post a comment and share your designs!