HIGH SCHOOLS: CLASSIFICATION
Classification problems not unique to Hawaii
Other states have experienced similar problems with travel and competition
The term "class struggle" takes on a whole new meaning when it refers to classification of high school sports.
Deciding which school goes in which division is never a perfect science and there are always challenges to overcome.
It's a tough job, but that doesn't stop states from doing it in methodical ways in an effort to provide competitive balance.
The problems that state high school associations come across when deciding on classification formulas are many.
Take the Idaho High School Activities Association, for example.
"We have 148 member schools (Hawaii has 98) and we have five divisions, actually six divisions in some sports. Some say it's too much. They think it's too watered down," IHSAA head John Billetz said. "We actually split our smallest-schools class (1A, with schools of 159 students and below) into two divisions. Sports are the lifeblood of those smaller communities, so we feel it's a good thing to try to make those communities happier by creating another state championship that they have a chance of winning.
"The majority of people are happy with six classes."
Billetz said there isn't much of a problem with competitive balance among the public and private schools, unlike the perception of many Hawaii sports fans, who feel the private schools here win a disproportionate number of state championships.
"Few people think the private schools have an advantage in Idaho, but part of that is we don't have a lot of private schools."
Such is not the case in New Hampshire.
"There's almost always some angst when a top basketball star all of a sudden wants a Catholic (private) education," said Pat Corbin, who runs the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association. "There's a strong feeling that some of the private schools are recruiting."
But Corbin doesn't believe his state has a disproportionate number of championships won by private schools. The state plans to study the matter later this year, similar to what Corbin said Maine did last year.
"In Maine, they found that about 11 percent of state championships were won by private schools and that's in proportion to the percentage of private schools there," he said.
Many states, including Idaho and New Hampshire, classify by a school's enrollment and reassess the numbers every few years. Many states also allow schools to opt up to a larger-enrollment division, but not down to a lower one.
Billetz said from time to time schools in Idaho petition to move down, but are usually rejected.
Idaho's classes are: 5A (1,280 students and up), 4A (640 to 1,279), 3A (320 to 639), 2A (160 to 319), 1A Division 1 (100 to 159) and 1A Division II (1 to 99).
In New Hampshire, schools fit into one of four categories: Class L (large, 1,201 and up), Class I (intermediate, 676 to 1,200), Class M (medium, 351 to 675) and Class S (small, 1 to 350).
New Hampshire is in the middle of steady change, however.
About two-thirds of the sports in the state, according to Corbin, use a three-division (I, II and III; large, medium and small) alignment, instead of four classes, and the trend is that more and more sports are choosing to do it that way.
For instance, if a school is in Class L, then all sports teams at that school must play in Class L unless a team is playing a sport that uses the three-division alignment.
"Yes, it can be very confusing," Corbin said. "But we've noticed that there's usually more parity and flexibility with the three divisions and we're re-examining the whole system to see if more or all sports should switch to the three divisions."
One big problem New Hampshire faced recently was when one school dropped down from Class L to Class I because of a dip in enrollment.
"All of that school's spring sports teams were undefeated three weeks into the season -- baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis and track. Many schools in Class I felt like they were getting screwed," Corbin said.
There are more pressing worries for New Hampshire, however, and probably for all other state associations, too.
"We're in crisis mode," said Corbin, who said many schools will be $200,000 in the hole due to rising heating and fuel costs.
"We may have to do some long-range restructuring, such as changing some tournament neutral sites to home sites and doing away with preseason games. This is turning everything upside down."
In Texas, schools are also feeling the pain of rising fuel prices, and it's likely to affect not only how the state runs its postseason tournaments but the regular season, too.
"Schools used to complain that they were in a bind because they have to travel so much and so far," Texas University Interscholastic League director Dr. William Farney said. "But it's a realistic problem now. Some schools are converting to propane (instead of regular gas) buses. Some schools are saying that if the trip is a certain distance, then the band can't go. That's cutting down on attendance because many of the parents and friends of the band members also won't be going.
"Travel is the biggest problem. Some schools have road trips (up to and exceeding 300 miles). For a Friday night game, they leave at 6 in the morning."
Texas' classifications are: 5A (2,085 students and up), 4A (980 to 2,084), 3A (430 to 979), 2A (200 to 429) and 1A (199 and below).
"But when we're deciding on the numbers, we look for a good breaking point where there's a difference of 30 or 40 students in between the bottom of one class and the top of the next."
Texas also replaces school names with a code when deciding on the classification breaking points. Farney said it's done that way to avoid a situation where staffers are making choices based on preconceived notions of where schools belong.
Farney and Idaho's Billetz agree that enrollment numbers are most useful for football.
"It's such a physical game that the number of students tends to correspond to strength on the field," Farney said. "In basketball, you can get a 7-footer and two 6-foot-9 forwards and have a great team. In track, you're fast or you're not fast. But for football, you need numbers."
The organization Farney runs is for public schools, although it has allowed two private schools into the fold with the stipulation that they must play in the highest division.
Texas also has another organization -- the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools -- that runs its own separate state championships.
Farney also said many schools opt up a division due to a lack of schools in their area playing in the same division.
Large enrollment doesn't guarantee sports success, so it's not always difficult for a school to move up.
In Alaska, many of the larger schools often have trouble making the playoffs and advancing against some of the smaller schools in the highest division, according to Alaska School Activities Association director Gary Matthews.
There is a wide gap in enrollment numbers in Alaska's highest class (4A), where the minimum enrollment is 401 but the largest school has 2,198 students.
Alaska's other divisions are: 3A (101 to 400), 2A (51 to 100) and 1A (1 to 50).
"You can only split it so many ways," Matthews said. "And you can expect complaints by the 3A schools when a 4A school (loses enrollment) and drops down a division."
The size of Alaska and its geography (mainland and islands) and cold weather certainly cause travel hardships for schools qualifying for state tournaments.
"Schools sometimes have to travel 500 to 1,000 miles. But if they want to play, that's what they do," Matthews said.
In Alaska, they travel by a road system that works fine in the southern part of the state, where the population centers are, but isn't nearly as effective in the northern part of the state.
Boat and air travel are common, but, according to Matthews, boats can't be used sometimes because the waterways freeze.
Another method of travel is by snow machine (individual snowmobiles driven by the athletes and their parents and friends), sometimes as many as 40 miles from one town to another along a frozen river, Matthews said.
"I know people in Hawaii complain about the travel, but relatively speaking, it's pretty minor there."
Here in Hawaii, rising travel costs are burdening the schools, too, and if costs get too high, the way the Hawaii High School Athletic Association runs its tournaments could be affected.
The five leagues that make up the HHSAA are free to classify their schools how they want right now. Ever since Hawaii first went to two divisions for many sports five years ago, there has been some pressure on the state's athletic directors and principals to devise a statewide classification system.
But the pressure hasn't been enough to cause change, and the leagues continue to do it their own way.
"Any time you're dealing with classification, it's tough," said Idaho's Billetz. "It's a big deal any time change is afoot. It's hard.
"But you just gotta do it."
Looking at classification in other states
A look at how the way Hawaii classifies high school sports compares with some other states:
2 (Enrollment not a consideration)
6 (1-99 students; 100-159 students; 160-319 students; 320-639 students; 640-1,279; 1,280 or more students)
4 (1-350 students; 351-675 students; 676-1,200 students; 1,201 or more students)
5 (1-199 students; 200-429 students; 430-979 students; 980-2,084 students; 2,085 or more students)
4 (1-50 students; 51-100 students; 101-400 students; 401 or more students)
States not drawn to scale; populations taken from U.S. Census estimates for 2007
How we got here
Hawaii high school sports have gone through many changes to get to the current methods of determining state champions:
1903: Hawaii's first prep league organized with three programs: Kamehameha, Punahou and Honolulu High School (McKinley).
1940: Rural OIA established with five schools: Castle, Kahuku, Leilehua, Waialua and Waipahu.
1956: HHSAA organized.
1964: HHSAA decides to hold two state boys basketball tournaments, one for schools with at least 425 enrollment and one for those schools under 425. It is approved as a two-year trial but lasts until 1982.
1969: First girls volleyball tournament held.
1970: Five public schools depart the ILH for the OIA, leaving the ILH with only private schools.
1973: OIA and ILH agree to have their champions play a de facto state championship football game called the Oahu Bowl. It is changed to the Oahu Prep Bowl after two years.
1974: A state boys soccer tournament is introduced, with eight teams invited.
1982: State basketball tournament moves from eight teams to 12 teams in one division, abolishing the 'A' tournament for small schools. The reasoning is fewer small schools being able to pay their way to the state tournament. In 1981 only four schools showed up.
1982: A state tournament is instituted for girls soccer.
1992: OIA splits football into Red, White and Blue divisions to cut down on mismatches. Schools move up or down in class each year depending on performance on the field.
1994: State girls soccer tournament expands from eight teams to 12 teams.
1998: OIA eliminates Blue division for football, going with two conferences based on a power rating.
1999: State football championship tournament begins with one division.
2001: ILH splits its league into two classifications after Damien president Gregory O'Donnell refuses to have his school play Saint Louis in football after years of lopsided losses.
2002: OIA moves from a power-ranking based alignment to one based on geography in its Red division with seven teams in the East and seven in the West. The White division is made up of seven schools as well.
2003: Classification approved for high school football, softball and girls basketball on one-year trial basis. Deciding whether a team is Division I or Division II is left up to leagues.
2004: First Division II tournaments held in girls softball and basketball.
2004: OIA ranks teams according to performance over a two-year span at the varsity and -- to a lesser extent -- junior varsity levels to determine whether they are D-I or D-II.
2005: Girls and boys volleyball tournaments classified by D-I and D-II.
2007: State girls soccer tournament is split into Division I and Division II.
2007: ILH determines schools with single-gender enrollment of 250, or 500 for coed, play in Division II. Exceptions allow one sport from one school per gender to move down to Division II, and all schools can move up to D-I if they so choose.
2008: First D-II baseball and boys soccer tournament held.
Compiled by Star-Bulletin reporter Jerry Campany