On a Friday last November, the De Soto football team built a 10-point lead in the first half of a playoff game, and the reaction from players, fans and casual observers resembled the closing seconds of a championship. The sidelines, the stands and even posts on social media provided a palpable feel to the buzz.
And then the powerhouse showed up.
Bishop Miege reeled off four straight touchdowns, cruised to a 32-point victory and eight days later won its fourth straight Kansas Class 4A Division I football title.
De Soto finished its season 10-2 after having rolled through the Frontier League unblemished and virtually unchallenged. Its two losses? Each of those were blowouts supplied by Miege, a private school that continues to swallow opponents of all shapes and sizes.
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Enough, some leaders say.
“At some point,” De Soto superintendent Frank Harwood said, “it starts to seem a little unfair.”
The effort to alter the playing field between public schools (such as De Soto) and private schools (such as Bishop Miege) — a long-standing fight that reached the Kansas state legislature each of the last two years — is brewing to the surface once more.
This time, it comes equipped with some added firepower.
Superintendents from the Frontier and Kaw Valley leagues banded together this month to urge the Kansas State High School Activities Association to modify the way it classifies private schools. In a letter addressed to KSHSAA’s incoming executive director Bill Faflick, who assumes the permanent role in July, the administrators argue that the “discrepancy of competition between private and public schools, especially in the metropolitan areas of Kansas, has grown to unfair proportions. This is why you are hearing from us.”
The letter is signed by 12 superintendents in those two leagues, all of them representing public high schools.
“We want our kids to dream,” said Louisburg superintendent Brian Biermann, who has spearheaded the latest efforts. “They can’t even dream anymore because of our current structure. They start the season knowing that they will never win a state championship.”
In five months, Faflick will take over as the new KSHSAA executive director. He was greeted with the rigors of the job during a meeting last month. Initially designed as an introduction to superintendents across the state, he was instead grilled over the public-versus-private-school conundrum.
One administrator threatened the possibility of public schools leaving KSHSAA and forming their own governing body for high school athletics, though that idea has not since gained traction among the Kansas City-area schools.
But another proposed that public and private schools could compete for separate state championships. And that’s an idea that is rapidly gaining outside support, Biermann said.
Why? It’s a matter of opportunity, they say. During a 10-year period from 2005-14, private schools accounted for 7.6 percent of the high schools in Kansas but won 31.9 percent of the state championships.
Those statistics come from Paola principal Jeff Hines, who for two-plus years has led a similar charge. But for those two years, he has been pinballed between the Kansas state legislature and KSHSAA, neither jumping at the opportunity to blink first. Kansas statute 72-130 requires the state to classify its high schools athletics participation strictly according to student attendance, and KSHSAA is obligated to abide by that law.
While meeting before the Kansas Senate last spring, Hines carried survey results that showed more than 80 percent of the state’s high schools wanted to see the issue addressed, with an 80-percent response rate. But he was instructed to first seek approval from KSHSAA before requesting to strike the law.
The KSHSAA executive board issued “no opposition” to the change, but it has not moved to an outright endorsement. The letter from superintendents seeks just that.
They don’t name a specific re-classification proposal, which Faflick says would be necessary before the executive board would vote on the matter, but Hines says those efforts are in the works. Instead, the superintendents offered four suggestions:
• A multiplier rule, in which the enrollments of each private school would be multiplied by a pre-determined number before determining classifications. Missouri uses a multiplier of 1.35 for private schools.
• A success formula or modifier rule, in which private school programs are bumped up classifications strictly based on their success. It would apply only to specific programs rather than entire schools.
• Separate postseason competition for private and public schools. The schools could still compete against one another during the season but would vie for different state titles.
• Attendance boundaries for private schools.
In response to receiving the letter, Faflick said, “I don’t know if it’s any new information. It’s the same story we’ve had for years and years. It’s been a particular passion for those schools in that area (of the state).
“We have a new classification system starting next year. We haven’t even had a chance to implement that yet, but we’re already having the request for additional change or consideration.”
KSHSAA indeed adopted a new classification for the 2018-19 school year — one that will ironically bump De Soto up to Class 5A — but the detractors point out the new system still doesn’t modify the way private schools are classified. Miege, for example, will stick in Class 4A Division I in football. During its four-year championship run, Miege has only once played a postseason game decided by fewer than four touchdowns.
It’s not just football, and while the proponents for change will tell you it’s not just Miege, the Stags’ success has been tough for them to ignore. Miege has won 98 state championships and is the reigning state champion in football, girls basketball, boys basketball, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls swimming. Five of those six programs have won at least the past two state titles.
In the past, Miege administrators and coaches have voiced their frustration in being put in the spotlight of the cause. They say it diminishes their players’ accomplishments, and there are plenty of others who argue the solution to getting beat shouldn’t be attempting to change the rules.
There are also hurdles to the alternatives. There are only 27 private schools that compete in KSHSAA-sanctioned athletics, according to Faflick, and the difference in their enrollment ranges from fewer than 100 kids to more than 1,100. That would make a separate private-school championship even more unbalanced, Faflick says, and separating them into multiple classifications wouldn’t leave enough schools to make the state playoffs worthwhile.
In any matter, an implementation of a new rule would require the approval of the KSHSAA executive board and the board of directors. Some proposals would also necessitate the Kansas state law to be amended.
“The things that they’re suggesting would take a significant amount of time,” said Faflick, whose previous jobs were in administration in Wichita Public Schools. “It’s hard to speculate what might happen.”