St. Thomas Academy’s Tommy Novak celebrated during last year’s Class 1A tournament. This fall, STA moves to Class 2A.

Carlos Gonzalez, Dml - Star Tribune

Mythbusters: Multiple-class state tournaments beneficial to kids

  • Article by: DAVID La VAQUE
  • Star Tribune
  • July 24, 2013 - 6:46 AM

Sports fans tend to cling to long-held beliefs about their teams, for better or worse. This week, we are exploring five of them to determine whether fact or fiction rules the day. Today: Multiple-class high school tournaments.


You still hear it now, local high school sports enthusiasts of a certain vintage griping how the multiple class state tournament format ruined what were once great spectacles.

Basketball’s single-class format ended in 1970. Five years later, the Minnesota State High School League approved two-class competition based on school enrollment. Hockey, the crown jewel state tournament, expanded in 1992. Perhaps something was lost on those occasions.

The benefit? Thousands of high schools athletes from all corners of Minnesota experienced the thrill of a state tournament. Small towns celebrated. Traditions were rediscovered or born anew. With that in mind, the multiple class system is a success.

Limited travel down the boys’ basketball record book list of alphabetized state tournament qualifiers shows why more classes were needed. Ada, located in northwestern Minnesota, made the state tournament in 1933, 1962 and 1966. Basketball expanded to two classes in 1970 and again to four in 1997. Ada, co-oping with Borup, returned to state in 2009.

Times change. If certain metro area schools are using superior resources in athletics to pull away from schools with similar enrollments, what chance do most small communities have?

Purists sniff, “Why not just give everyone a medal?” While it is true that seven high school football programs win state championships, only 14.9 percent of the state’s 375 teams reached a state tournament last season. Fear not, purists, 85.1 percent of teams still dealt with the disappointment of loss. In contrast, more than twice as many NFL teams (37.5 percent, 12 of 32) go to the playoffs.

As for the law of unintended consequences, some schools have exploited their placement by winning multiple championships and still refusing to opt-up to a more competitive class. But next year, Totino-Grace (football) and St. Thomas Academy (boys’ hockey) will add intrigue to their respective sports by opting-up to their highest classes. Moreover, their moves allow overmatched schools to drop down.

If three divisions of athletics can exist at the NCAA level, so too can multiple high school classes. Teams of outstate athletes should not have a glass ceiling on their championship dreams because of where and when they were born and raised. Because lest adults forget, the tournaments belong to the kids.

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