On Monday, head coaches representing every Anaconda High sport met with AHS principal Paul Furthmyre, AD and vice Principal Shawn Hansen, SD10 Superintendent Dr. Tom Darnell and the board of trustees in order to consider a motion by Montana High School Association requesting the school to move to Class B. The move would take effect in the 2015-16 school year.
I reported on the meeting at kana580.com (click here for the article) but it’s no secret I think the school should consider moving to the lower classification for a number of reasons.
1), It’s time. We are competing against bigger school in the Southwestern A, and the only reason we aren’t as bad off in terms of numbers against the majority of schools is because the likes of Hamilton, Corvallis and Stevensville are fielding huge soccer and cross country teams (currently, Dillon, Anaconda and Butte Central are among the minority in Class A who do not offer soccer for either boys or girls). According to AHS head football coach Bob Orrino, we have approximately 30 kids out for football each year. I can confirm Dillon had nearly 60 on their JV-Varsity teams last year, not counting members of the freshmen team numbering similar to Anaconda’s entire program.
2), We need to stop fooling ourselves. Forget the recent successes we’ve had in the classification, those are on a case by case basis. Our girls’ basketball and volleyball teams from 2006-2011 were an anomaly. Sure they were among the best teams in the state regardless of classification, but so was Fairfield this year after completing a 105-game winning streak. Could they continuously compete against teams of larger enrollment? Possibly. But that success couldn’t be sustained.
3), I’m one of the biggest supporters of Copperhead athletics and love where we play. The SW-A has some great administration and coaching staffs, including our own. With that being said, it’s just not fair to our kids to keep fooling ourselves. We need to move to where our school can compete on a level playing field AS A WHOLE and not by using a case-by-case basis.
I will say I loved the passion by each coach stating their individual cases on Monday night. All were respectful of one another and expressed their own concerns in a civil, professional manner. I wish all of the issues hitting our school board could be conducted the same way. There’s passion, then there’s misguided anger.
I probably shouldn’t have even been at the meeting, but again I felt it necessary to say my peace. And I appreciate the coaches for bearing with what I had to say.
Being a numbers guy, I though it necessary to compare Anaconda to one of the two recent former Class A teams which dropped down to Class B due to the same concerns we are having. I used Bigfork as that model. Here’s what I found.
One of the last teams to move from Class A to Class B was Bigfork in 2009-10. But their collective downfall across the board was seen for years. Sure they had some individual success, but their team records were always at or near the bottom of the Northwestern A. They were competing with schools which had almost twice their enrollment, and although there were scattered wins here and there, sustained success was not realistically attainable.
In the case of football, Anaconda and Bigfork last met in Anaconda during the 2005-06 season. Anaconda, a 3-5 football team that year, beat Bigfork 21-7. The Vikings finished 1-7 overall that year, then went winless over the next three years with 0-7, 0-8 and 0-8 records before moving to their rightful classification. In 2009-10, the football team went a respectable 4-4, and immediately rebounded from embarrassing 30 and 40 point losses to division rivals. In 08-09, Bigfork was outscored 46.5 to 11.3. The year they moved, their scoring and defense improved dramatically. Although they still allowed 36.8 ppg, they also scored 24.9 ppg.
Then in 2010-11, they went 10-2 and won the Class B state championship. Four years leading up to their move they went 1-30. Five years since, 41-13. And that’s just in football.
In basketball, it was much of the same. The four year prior to the move the team recorded a 16-61 mark with the best record being 7-13 in 2005-06. Since, they’ve advanced to three state tournaments and placed twice going 98-24 over that span including a perfect 26-0 record and Class B state championship this season.
Anaconda is almost identical to the tough choice Bigfork made moving down a classification, but you can see what happens when a school plays against other schools of like enrollment.
Even if the goal isn’t to succeed like Bigfork has, it should be at least to give our student-athletes the opportunity to compete at a level comparable to their competition. Winning on the playing field breeds winning in the classroom. Like Shawn Hansen has always said, when the student athletes are competing at a high level outside of the classroom, his problems in terms of discipline, absenteeism and tardiness reduce significantly.
You thing Bigfork isn’t loving life competing against their level of enrollment and not against the like of Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Polson? Think again. Here’s a nice article speaking to their moving from The Flathead Beacon (click here to read the story).
Some against the move say the competition isn’t as good. I don’t agree. Sure, the crop of competition is lower due to the lower enrollments and larger amount of schools competing in the Class B (currently at 40), but when you get down to the final 8-10 teams, those squads, whether it any specific sport, would wipe the walls with teams one or two classifications higher on any given year.
What does change in lowering the classification is the sustainability of the programs. In Class AA or A, bigger class sizes allow for the ability to have more athletes to sustain success. In Class B or C, that probability lowers significantly. Sure there are some collectively better than others, but that goes back to the quality of life in each school district.
Unfortunately, our population is made up mostly of poverty level kids dealing with some tough childhood situations. Anaconda is tough, but even we have had some uphill battles with getting back on our feet from the Smelter closure. But we do what we can and offer some pretty amazing opportunities in terms of quality education and recreation. So why not level the playing field for our kids and coaches? Pit them against like enrollments in order to give us that ability to sustain a program? Why can’t we be the big fish, why must we always try to overachieve?
In terms of academic-athletic opportunities (now I just did football because it’s the easiest to track) for our students, football is very kind to small schools in Montana. I searched back four years in the Frontier and Big Sky Conference schools Montana and Montana State (last year and their recruiting classes this year), and the results are very encouraging.
Many will say the lower the classification, the harder it will be for our student-athletes to receive scholarships. However that just isn’t the case. Thanks to social media, collegiate coaches are more in tune with the smaller school now that ever.
Looking back at just football from the past four years, over approximately 869 players hailing from Montana were on Frontier rosters, and this doesn’t include Dickinson State (except for last year) or Jamestown College in North Dakota which loads up on small school athletes from eastern Montana. Of this 869, 319 came from schools from the Class B or C ranks. So in other words, 37 percent of all football players in Montana that go on to play college football in the Frontier Conference hail from Class B or C.
In terms of Montana and Montana State the ratio goes down slightly but is still significant. Last year, Montana had 26 locals on their roster with 2 players from small school. Montana State had 39 and 10. So 19 percent of all Montana football players at the Division I level are from smaller schools.
Lower the school into its correct classification won’t hurt their ability to earn a scholarship or even play at the next level in the least.
Being smaller doesn’t mean being worse. Let’s get that through our heads right off the bat. As soon as we can get that stigma out of our lexicon the sooner we can get back to a level playing field for our entire school district, not just on a case by case basis.
We’re all in this together, let’s hope we all make the right choice.
The School Board will vote on the issue on Wednesday night, if you have some input I advise you to attend no matter where you stand on the issue.