IHS athletics takes on seismic shift

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June 5, 2013 - 12:00 AM

A split among the state’s 64 Class 4A schools will mean a seismic change for Iola High School athletics.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association announced Tuesday the split of Class 4A into two 32-team divisions. The vote passed overwhelmingly, 42 to 22. A representative from each school in Class 4A voted.
No longer will Iola and its 361 students — the school’s official enrollment for 2012-13 — be among the smaller 4A schools. Now, Iola is likely to rank in the top 10 Class 4A, Division II schools.
The new classifications will go into effect immediately in volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball. Enrollment on Sept. 20 will determine the makeup. The split goes into effect for football in 2014.
While the numbers won’t become official for another three months, Martin Bambick, IHS athletics director, is confident Iola will remain in Division II.
Iola’s 361 students were less than half the number enrolled at Topeka-Highland Park (729). Pittsburg, another 4A school, has 710 students.
The widest variance was between Highland Park and Frontenac and Rock Creek, both of which had 258 students last year: a ratio of 2.83 to 1. Nowhere in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado or Nebraska was the discrepancy so wide.
“It’s a numbers game,” said IHS football coach Doug Kerr, noting Kansas Class 4A was the only division among those studied to have as much as a 2-to-1 difference in enrolled students, “and it was almost 3 to 1.”
None of the other classes in Kansas have a ratio of more than 1.8 to 1.
That discrepancy led to several advocates — including Iola — to push for the split.
Larger schools are less reliant on a blend of a talented class of athletes combined with a bit of luck health-wise to make a postseason run in football, basketball or other team sports, Kerr said.
“When you have schools that have as many boys as we do total students, it’s just not fair,” Kerr said
“For me personally, this isn’t about state titles,” Girard Middle School Principal Randy Heatherly told the Topeka Capital Journal. “This is about coaches being able to look in their student-athletes’ eyes during the off season, preseason, and during the season and be able to honestly tell them they will be playing schools their own size, and if you work hard enough you should be able to compete.”
Heatherly, Holton Principal Rod Wittmer and Pratt Principal Steve Blankenship put together the proposal.
Volleyball is the first sport that will be affected, and the KSHSAA executive board must work quickly to put into place a new substate system, as well as find a site for a state tournament, the Wichita Eagle reported.
“There’s a lot of work ahead, absolutely,” Mark Lentz, KSHSAA assistant executive director, told the Eagle. “Getting to secure the sites is one thing. I know everybody is working on that right now, to try and figure what is best. You want something that is centrally located for the classifications.”
The split will have minimal effect on Iola’s participation wthin the Pioneer League. Osawatomie, Anderson County and Prairie View are certain to join Iola in Class 4A, Division II. The other two schools, Central Heights and Wellsville, are in Class 3A.
The split also won’t have much of an effect on Iola’s old stomping grounds, the Southeast Kansas League. There, Fort Scott, Pittsburg, Chanute, Labette County and Coffeyville-Field Kindley all will stay together in Class 4A, Division I. Only Parsons would be placed in the smaller division.
The split will not affect other sports: golf, cross country, tennis, wrestling and track and field — sports in which individual championships are awarded at the state level. Those will remain under a single Class 4A umbrella.
As an aside, Iola’s recent run through the 4A state baseball playoffs certainly would have had a different flavor this year, had the split already occurred. The Mustangs defeated Field Kindley and DeSoto before falling to Topeka Hayden in the championship game. All three schools will be in Division I starting next year.
Likewise, the Mustang football team will face Fort Scott and Chanute in football for what may be the final time in October. The schools remained in the same football district, even after Iola left the SEK for the Pioneer League last year. Both Chanute and Fort Scott will remain in Class 4A, Division I.

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