CUNNINGHAM ON SPORTS: REALIGNMENT, AND IT FEELS SO.........

CUNNINGHAM ON SPORTS:  REALIGNMENT, AND IT FEELS SO......... Click to Enlarge

I love realignment. The pitfalls, the possibilities, the whaling and gnashing of teeth.

The crying and moaning.

It happens in North Dakota every two years. High school football is realigned, head counts are taken, and the magic of Wahpeton at Watford City happens. Then, the magic of every old-timer near Grafton happens, when they all come out of the woodwork to complain that the Spoilers vs Park River is not the state title game every year, and they shouldn't have to travel any further.

I love this time of year.

The numbers are out, at least the preliminary numbers, which, in North Dakota, mean the final numbers after we give you a chance to talk to Eric Peterson at the Forum and tell him that, two years ago, your head coach wouldn't even acknowledge you were moving down from AAA to AA, and now you realize it's right where you should be.

Two years ago, Grand Forks Central opened at Jamestown. I called the game, and interviewed their head coach, Bill Nelson. I asked him how he planned to handle their final year at AAA with the team.

"We're not even going to talk about it, because it's not for sure yet," was his response.

Wait, what? Of course it was for sure. Was I supposed to take that as a, "we're not going quietly down a level" moment?

I did, which is what makes the story of Jamestown now appealing their move back to AAA all the more delicious.

That being said, Jim Roaldson is a great athletic director who has always looked out for the Blue Jays, and he's 100% right on this one: Jamestown should be a AA team.

Who do they have to blame? Not sure, but probably Wahpeton and Watford City, with a Grafton-area AD in the mix as well.

Wahpeton lost a $10,000 gate last year in not being able to host Breckenridge, and having to play Watford City instead, after the NDHSAA opted for a 10-team AA division, with every team playing every other team in the class in the regular season. Wahpeton was happy to tell anyone who would listen.

I'm guessing Watford City isn't keen on travelling to Wahpeton on a regular basis. Athletic Directors in the state's northeast just couldn't handle the novel concept of 10 teams that looked alike (Watford City beat Jamestown and made the playoffs) playing each other, because there weren't enough teams in the class.

Ask any AD from 30 years ago near St. Thomas, and they will tell you that it's better to have about 10 more teams in the class who have absolutely zero hope of ever winning a title, and little more of making the playoffs, because we just feel better about bigger numbers of teams in classes. It makes the trophy mean more.

Its the solid waste from a male bovine.

The answer is a top class that is smaller, not larger. Sorry, but small-school ADs have no concept of AAA football, and I'm not sure they care to. They only want to care about what jet-sweep-running running back will get them to the semi-finals this year. Harsh, but reality.

Fargo, West Fargo, Bismarck, and Minot schools should be in the own class, period. The next class should have all the remaining big schools from Grand Forks to Wahpeton, and we'll go from there.

Good luck sliding that past the next District 4 AD's meeting.

Instead, the state opted to expand the top class to 16, to feel better about itself, with an expansion of AA to 12 teams. Fargo Shanley, fresh off of dominating AA East since joining it, has developed amnesia and forgotten the years that Kevin Feeney outdid himself as a head coach and took them to a fourth-place finish in the EDC and a playoff spot. They wanted back up again.

The state said yes, and then grabbed Jamestown to fill AAA up.

Until they fix this top class, and the small-school ADs come to a AAA game and see what Bismarck Century, West Fargo, Minot, and Bismarck with their 22 starters, are all about, and until schools are more than easy, round numbers on a page, we will deal with this every two years.

And don't let the old-timers fool you with their "we don't need a trophy for everyone" and "someone has to be smallest" arguments. Those arguments are the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, as in men full of straw......without a brain. Yes, someone has to be smallest, but not 600 boys smaller than the largest, and we're looking for good games, not trophies for everyone.

Now, since it's likely you haven't seen the numbers yet, lets review the winners and losers from this year's realignment.

WINNER: Minot

Somehow, the Magicians avoided building that new high school yet again, and, with a projected future enrollment of 2,800 in grades 9-12, I'm sure having one team dominating AAA is far better than offering their student body an actual chance to participate with two teams that would still likely dominate AAA.

LOSER: Jamestown

For the aforementioned reasons. Half the size of both schools in West Fargo is apparently more fair than twice the size of Wahpeton, and the West Fargo schools are still a Larimore smaller than Minot.

WINNER: Bismarck St. Marys

With Shanley opting up from AA to AAA, St. Mary's is the Catholic powerhouse that actually remembers what it was like to compete up there, and has decided to hang out at the AA level. Nothing is for sure, Beulah taught them that a few years ago, but there is one less hurdle to clear on the way to a state title.

LOSER/WINNER: Hillsboro-Central Valley

The Burros are a movin'-on-up.....again, to AA. Shanley and Jamestown leaving, combined with enlarging the AA class to 12 teams, created four holes that needed to be filled. H-CV is one of the teams moving in. While it might seem like a tough slope, think again. The last year they were AA, they made a run, and Shanley, who is no longer around, ended it in the state semis. The fan base in Hillsboro, Buxton, and Reynolds may be okay with the somewhat new challenge.

WINNER: Kindred

As if avoiding a 3-division system of basketball isn't enough of a lucky break every year, Kindred is now the largest A football school, missing the cutoff by .01 of a boy. Central Dakota, a ill-formed co-op of Binford, Glenfield, Sutton, McHenry, Jessie, Cooperstown, Hannaford, Dazey, Sibley, Sanborn, Rogers, Eckelson, Wimbledon, and Courtenay that spans some 2,500 square miles and extends from near Tolna to I-94, came in at 103.45 boys adjusted enrollment (free and reduced meals lead to the adjustment). Kindred came in at 103.44. Kindred is A, Central Dakota is AA.

LOSER: Thompson

No way out now, the Tommies are moving to 11-man football. Their adjusted enrollment puts them smack in the middle of A. The competition may not matter, but the travel will make you think again. If things work out, the longest road trip could be Harvey. If they don't, Oakes.

LOSER: Northwood-Hatton

See Thompson. Same deal. Does anyone remember what offensive tackles are? They aren't used in the 9-man game.

WINNER: The Old-Timers

Instead of like schools playing like-sized schools, they got their way. More teams in a class equals good, no matter the outcome.

LOSER: Football (and common sense)

Why have good regular season games when you can watch a blowout and discourage kids from playing? That Central Dakota co-op we talked about a few paragraphs ago was formed because that's what it took to keep football going for all of those schools. How long will football exist there when we send them to Bismarck St. Marys?

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