When the Minnesota State High School League lifted its moratorium on adding classes for sports in December, it triggered a rash of expansion proposals from various sports’ coaches associations. Both genders of cross-country, soccer and tennis want to add a third class while volleyball wants to add to a fourth class. In general, each proposal would mean an additional eight teams advancing to state-level competition. The league’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on the proposals at its June 3 meeting. A similar proposal to add a third class of girls’ and boys’ track and field is expected to be taken up in the spring. The last sports to add classes were baseball and softball, which expanded from three to four in 2016. Here’s a look at each sport and what’s at stake:
What’s being proposed: Coaches seek placement of the 64 largest schools by enrollment in Class 3A, the next 96 in 2A and an estimated 160 in 1A. Under the new proposal, 3A would have schools with enrollments of 1,195 or more. The 2A numbers fall between 1,194 to about 400.
Last expanded classes: 1975 for boys, 1978 for girls
Who benefits: Current Class 2A schools with enrollments from 550 to 600 students, such as Cloquet, Fergus Falls and Foley, would compete against more similarly sized schools instead of Twin Cities area mega schools.
Concerns: Coaches want to continue advancing the top two teams from each section to the state meet, plus the top six individuals not on the top two teams. That received pushback in a recent area meeting small-group discussion. In Class 3A, for example, that means 25 percent of the teams would qualify for state.
Quote: “We’re looking for more balance,” said Chris Goebel, coaches association president and Mora cross-country coach. “Some of the smaller schools really have nothing in common with the highest enrollment schools.”
What’s being proposed: Coaches want to add a third class. Class 3A would be the largest 64 schools by enrollment (about 1,190 students or larger), with the next 64 in 2A. The rest would be 1A. In December, the high school league approved lowering the number of participating teams needed for a two-class sport to become three classes, to 192 from 288. Both genders in soccer meet the new criterion. There are 207 boys’ teams and 196 girls’ teams.
Last expanded classes: 1997
Who benefits: Smaller Class 1A private and charter schools get away from suburban schools with much larger enrollments.
Concerns: The high school league gets a fixed number of rent-free days for prep tournaments held at U.S. Bank Stadium. A third class would mean third-place games would move off-site, possibly to the HealthEast Sports Center in Woodbury.
Quote: “This makes things more equal and gives more teams a chance to compete and get into the state tournament,” coaches association President Greg Juba said. “Right now, we have some smaller Class 1A schools opting out of postseason play.”
What’s being proposed: A third class, primarily to alleviate the top-heavy nature of tennis. There are currently 191 girls’ teams, including 127 in Class 2A, and 164 boys’ teams, with 100 of them in Class 2A. The proposal would separate 32 teams from the largest schools into a Class 3A, the rest making up Class 2A.
Last expanded: 1978 for girls, 1979 for boys.
Who benefits: Class 2A smaller schools that would step out from the shadows of the largest schools. It’s also hoped that private schools that have dominated Class 1A might be encouraged to move up a class.
Concerns: Having fewer than 64 teams in a class has been cited as a potential objection, as has having fewer than the 288 teams required by the league to justify a third class.
Quote: “In basketball, schools in the middle range of enrollment get relief from the large schools with Class 3A,” said Les Zellman, activities director and longtime tennis coach at St. James. “In tennis, that’s not possible. There’s a numerical imbalance.”
What’s being proposed: Coaches in the sport, with the highest participation totals in the state for girls and second in overall participation to football, are asking to follow the precedents of basketball and softball and add a fourth class.
Last expanded: Went to three classes in 1999
Who benefits: Adding a fourth class would improve parity, allowing for competition between schools of comparable size. It would increase uniformity in section play, where Class 1A sections have twice as many teams as in Class 3A.
Concerns: Instead of having all matches take place at the Xcel Center over three days, a fourth day would need to be added or a second site used. Splitting matches between the Xcel Center and adjacent Roy Wilkins Auditorium has been mentioned.
Quote: “Volleyball has become an elite sport in Minnesota, within high schools and the club system that has exploded nationally,” said Lonnie Morken, volleyball coach and athletic director at Mabel-Canton. “We’re not asking for anything irrational. Just something similar to basketball. We think the time is right.”
Track and field
What’s being proposed: Minnesota ranks sixth nationally in track and field participation numbers (about 32,000 athletes) but is the only state in the top 10 for participation to offer fewer than three classes. Three of the four states bordering Minnesota offer three or more classes. Three classes compete in the Minnesota track and field coaches association-sponsored True Team state meet in May.
Last expanded classes: 1976. (A three-class format for boys existed from 1973-75.)
Who benefits: The athletes. Nationally, an average of 8% of the competitors qualify for the state meet. In Minnesota, 3.4% qualify.
Concerns: Aaron Berndt, coaches association president and Wayzata boys’ track and field coach, said the state meet’s current two-day format at Hamline could accommodate a third class, thus limiting any extra expense for renting facilities.
Quote: “It’s not cool how different we are,” said Kent Viesselman, boys’ track and field coach at Cambridge-Isanti and past coaches association president, regarding the disparity in the percentage of qualifying athletes.