Sports do matter in our schools

By: 
Doreen Heintz
Sports Editor

Now that the fall sports season is upon us, the starting of school is not far behind. I have been thinking, on and off, about this column since I watched the Class C Girls’ State Basketball Tournament in Great Falls on February. Looking at the teams at state, I realized several of them used to be Class B schools. Due to declining enrollments particularly in the rural areas, several schools in Class B have dropped down to Class C. And although not many Class C schools have shut down, co-oping of sports has allowed schools to stay open.
My brother who lives in Wyoming also told me in March that both their boys’ and girls’ teams won state titles in basketball. The town he lives in is about the size of Stanford, although being on Interstate 80 they have more businesses so have more students in high school.
According to the Montana High School Association, the cut off between Class B and Class C schools is 120 students. Or at least that was the number when I was involved in high school sports. 
In Montana, there are currently 14 schools in Class AA, 20 in Class A, 40 in Class B, and 105 in Class C. In Wyoming, there are 14 schools in 4A, 16 in 3A, 20 in 2A and 23 in 1A. I realize there are not 105 teams in Class C sports due to the co-ops, but  to me, the Wyoming classification system seems much more fair to all classifications. Schools in 4A in Wyoming have enrollments from 788 to 2477, while in Montana Class AA enrollments are from 1,061 to 1,973 students. Schools in 3A in Wyoming range in enrollment from 212 to 711, while Class A schools in Montana range from 322 to 802, with the exception of Butte Central, which has approximately 150 students in school but elects to remain Class A. Schools in 2A in Wyoming have enrollments from 97 to 217. Class B schools in Montana range in size from 108 to 354. Finally, 1A schools in Wyoming are from 12 to 79 students. Class C schools in Montana have a student population that ranges from 4 to 128.
My theory is that small schools are using the co-oping of teams so they can remain competitive with the large Class C schools that maybe should be pushed up to Class B.
Is sports important at the Class C level? An unequivocal yes. We all know of students who transfer between schools for the sole purpose of playing on a better team. Lewistown just needs to look no further than 2001 when two Denton students came to Lewistown and were important players on the football and girls’ basketball championship teams.
Over the past few years, Belt has gotten several transfer students with the express desire to play on winning teams. Is this right or wrong? I guess it depends on who you talk to.
I feel that if the four classifications were evened out in the state, we would not see as much co-oping of schools or transferring of students in Class C. In Class C football, we added another division – six-man football. If we can do it in football, why not do it in sports such as volleyball and basketball.
The schools are the lifeblood of our small communities. Without a school, a community will dry up – look at Moccasin, for example. But let’s see if we can level the playing field.

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