One Kansas City high school is so good at sports that it has essentially broken the balance of competition, and convinced many involved to change the rules.
The arbitrary mutation of enrollment figures to chase the impossible goal of fairness is silly, for lots of reasons, but it’s happening anyway and almost certainly will soon in Kansas. That’s too bad.
DeSoto High is a Kansas Class 4A football power, and this is more objective fact than subjective opinion. The Wildcats are 10-1, with 10 blowout wins — a 30-8 win at Ottawa in the season opener is their closest game of the season.
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DeSoto will lose its semifinal this week, probably in a blowout and, unfortunately, this is also more objective fact than subjective opinion. The Wildcats’ one loss was to their opponent this week, Bishop Miege. The final score was 31-0.
Miege is just different. The Stags are the defending state champions, not just in football but also in boys basketball, girls basketball, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls swimming. Miege football is 11-0 this year, outscoring its opponents by an average of 50-10. Miege has played four teams that are now in semifinals in the bigger divisions, and beat them by an average of 42-15.
“You’ll play most teams and they’ll have one athlete you have to plan for,” DeSoto coach Brian King said. “This team will have 11. So it’s challenging. But it is what it is.”
Miege might be the best team in the state, regardless of classification, but with an enrollment around 700 the private school two miles west of Country Club Plaza is competing against small-town and rural schools like Basehor-Linwood (58-6 in a regional game) and Labette County (69-23 in a sectional).
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Paola High principal Jeff Hines and Girard middle school principal Randy Heatherly have petitioned the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s executive board to essentially legislate Miege out of 4A.
“Miege in particular is the perfect example of this problem,” Hines said. “They’re a small school in a huge metropolitan area pulling kids from all these different places.”
Hines found that from 2005 to 2014, just 7.6 percent of Kansas high schools were private but that 31.9 percent of the state’s championships were won by those private schools. Recently, he discovered a line buried in the KSHSAA rule book that allows baseball teams to move up a level with approval of the executive board if “just cause” is shown. Maybe that rule can be extended to other sports.
Hines has momentum on his side, too, with a survey that found over 80 percent of responding ADs and principals would support a multiplier or modifier. Hines said the issue received at least 64 percent support in all classes, with 92 percent support in 4A, where Miege is beating everyone.
Many states make similar adjustments for private schools, including Missouri, where enrollment is boosted by 35 percent in determining classifications. In Kansas, there has also been talk among some coaches and administrators of creating a separate division for private schools.
Hines prefers a success modifier for private schools that would push programs up a level if, say, they won two state championships in two years. Oklahoma has a version of this, and the more Miege dominates, the more this issue figures to grow ... along with the frustrations of parents, coaches and administrators.
But a push to change structure based mostly on Miege’s success and — let’s be honest about what we’re talking about here — a bit of classism is awkward and loaded with problems.
First, and most obviously, nobody has a right to athletic success. If someone’s beating you, the answer shouldn’t be to change the rules. Private schools have inherent advantages in sports, but legislating against them with guesswork math is not the right answer.
Miege hasn’t always been an athletic power, after all.
There are also unintended consequences. Because, sure, Miege would be a better fit in Class 6A football, but that’s one school in one sport. Kansas is full of public school powers, and private school struggles.
Gary Kruger, a longtime area cross country coach now at Cristo Rey in midtown Kansas City believes the multiplier has unfairly hurt his athletes, who must compete against schools two or three times bigger. Multipliers are created when a powerhouse like Miege exists, but less thought goes to how they affect schools like Cristo Rey, which is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity and whose kids largely come from poorer families.
“Our kids already have many challenges,” Kruger said.
Missouri’s setup should inform this discussion, actually. The 1.35 multiplier is completely arbitrary. There is no data to suggest that’s a better number than 1.5, or 1.2, or 1.34, or 2.8. We’re all just guessing, and besides, there isn’t much to suggest the multiplier has made an impact.
Locally, Rockhurst is a power in many sports. Pembroke Hill has won the second-most championships of any school in Missouri. St. Teresa’s, St. Pius X, Notre Dame de Sion and others continue to win titles.
Hines’ push for a success modifier rather than a multiplier makes sense, but it’s also unfair if applied only to private schools. Smith Center football and Baldwin cross country are among the public school powers in those sports, so what’s good for Miege should apply to everyone else, too.
The biggest delay here isn’t going to be support to do something. It’s going to be support for one particular solution.
They’ll get there. Miege is beating too many schools in too many parts of the state in too many sports for any other outcome.
But for the best result, here’s hoping the adults in charge also consider unintended consequences and the message they’re sending to the kids involved.