In blue, scarlet and a bit of white, state-championship banners hang along the rafters and drape the walls of the Bishop Miege High School gym. There are 92 of them stretching the full length of the basketball court, packed so tightly together that the white-painted walls have become merely a backdrop, like the mortar between bricks.
This is the tangible image of athletic supremacy, and it resides inside a Catholic private school in Johnson County.
Bishop Miege is the reigning Kansas Class 4A Division I state champion in football, boys basketball, girls basketball, boys soccer, girls soccer and boys track.
The dominance can be relayed in an abundance of statistics — like a football program that has only once been played within four touchdowns in the last three postseasons, or with a girls basketball coach who ranks in the top 15 nationally in victories.
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But perhaps the most telling piece of evidence is this: The Bishop Miege powerhouse is strong enough to spark officials from other schools to seek a change in Kansas state law.
On Wednesday, Paola High athletics director Jeff Hines will stand before the Kansas State High School Activities Association executive board in hopes of persuading the organization to adopt a multiplier or modifier rule, which would bump private schools like Miege to a larger classification. Hines will tote with him the results of a survey handed to Kansas member schools this year that shows widespread support for change.
“Look, Miege has been a thorn in our side,” said Hines, whose school competes in the same classification. “They’re winning way more than any school should. I want to make it clear that I’m not accusing Miege of going out and recruiting kids. I’m not saying that. But what I’m saying is the private schools that are attached to large major metro areas naturally attract a different caliber athlete.”
Hines will not submit a specific proposal to KSHSAA, the state’s governing body for athletes, but rather offer a few options.
The primary two:
▪ A multiplier rule that would tally the enrollment of each private school and then multiply it by a pre-determined number. In Missouri, which has had a multiplier rule for nearly two decades, all private-school enrollments are multiplied by 1.35 before they are placed in their respective classifications. At a single-gender school such as Rockhurst, the enrollment is multiplied by 1.35 and then doubled. Miege is the sixth largest school in Kansas Class 4A Division I.
▪ A modifier rule, a relatively new system in which private-school programs are only bumped up classifications based on their success. Such a rule would apply only to specific programs rather than entire schools. In Oklahoma, for example, a single sports program would be forced to enlist in a larger classification if it has finished in the top eight in three of the past four seasons in that sport.
But even if Hines can make a persuasive case for either option on Wednesday, a significant hurdle would remain. KSHSAA formed a classification committee more than a year ago to address the concerns of its member schools, but it has refrained from enacting a multiplier or modifier rule because it believes it would contradict state law.
Per Kansas statute 72-130, the high school activities association must “establish a system for the classification of member high schools according to school attendance.”
“We’re not ignoring what’s being talked about out there — and that’s why we developed a committee to discuss possible alternatives,” said Jeremy Holaday, a KSHSAA assistant executive director. “But we’ve asked some legal experts, and they believe adding a multiplier or a success modifier would be fudging the actual numbers of student attendance. We don’t want to move too far forward if the law prohibits it.”
Hines has tried the alternative route, presenting the proposals to the Kansas Senate last March. In written testimony, Miege athletics director and associate principal Mike Hubka asked the Senate to let the new KSHSAA classification committee “complete the task assigned to us” and find the solution on its own. Hubka is a member of the committee.
KSHSAA submitted written testimony stating its position as neutral.
The bill died last June.
“Neither side wants to move first, and we’re just caught in no-man’s land here,” Hines said.
Hines — and those who back his cause, which is being co-authored by Girard Middle School principal Randy Heatherly — will tell you this isn’t just about slowing the Bishop Miege train, but there’s a refreshing candidness to his words. He acknowledges that Paola has often run into the Miege roadblock.
Across the state, similar roadblocks exist. In fact, from a 10-year period from 2005-14, private schools accounted for only 7.6 percent of the high schools in Kansas but won 31.9 percent of state-championship events.
In truth, Miege has been so dominant that it fares quite well — or better than quite well — against big-class competition. It competes in the Eastern Kansas League, a 10-school conference comprised of nine Class 6A or 5A teams. It is the lone Class 4A Division I member.
The Miege girls basketball team rolled off 63 straight victories — including those against larger conference foes — before the streak was snapped in December. The Stags football team has lost just two EKL games in the past three years.
In its third straight football state-championship season last fall, Miege drilled Mill Valley 64-21 in the regular season. Mill Valley went on to win the Kansas Class 5A title.
“It’s frustrating for the kids because they read the same things everybody else reads. At times, people try to take away from the accomplishments they have and the work they put into it,” Miege football coach Jon Holmes said. “It’s not easy to do the things we’re doing. Everybody expects you to win. The kids can feel that pressure from week to week.”
Holmes said there is some interest among players on his team to test their mettle against bigger competition in the playoffs. In the last three years, Miege has outscored its playoff opponents 676-129.
But any change won’t come easily, nor would it come quickly. If the executive board sides with Hines on Wednesday, the matter would be pushed to a board of directors meeting in late April. If that group also liked the proposal, it would send a ballot to every member school.
An amendment would require an overall majority, and a majority within at least four of the six classes.
But that’s half the battle — there’s still that Kansas statute.
“Our hope is that if we have the support of the member schools — and our surveys say we certainly do — that KSHSAA will abandon their position of neutrality and move the Senate to make the change,” Hines said. “We know it’s not going to be a quick process, but we’re in this for the long haul.”