It’s becoming increasingly hard to run a school in many parts of Minnesota. The state owes each and every school district millions of dollars, for starters, but keeping enrollment up is also a challenge in the out-state and in the biggest cities. The state funds the school districts based on enrollment so it’s pertinent to keep enrollments up and to keep the money flowing.
Enrollments are also important when it comes to the athletic competitions that are organized by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL). A school’s 9-12 enrollment dictates which class of competition they participate in. In a lot of sports that ranges from Single-A to Quadruple-A which is the case in boys’ basketball.
On March 12, Minneapolis North won the Single-A Championship against Goodhue. The same Minneapolis North that won the Quadruple-A title in 2003 and 1997. The cutoff for a team to be moved from Single-A to Double-A is 200 kids and when Minneapolis North’s enrollment was listed as 199 throughout MSHSL materials, well, it turned my head.
I understand that Minneapolis North has seen better times and has seen, literally, a mass exodus from the school’s population, but it’s still hard to believe that a school located in a city with over 400,000 people could only wrangle up 199 students.
How is North playing Single-A basketball then?
Welcome to section 400 of the bylaws of the MSHSL:
- h) Prior to any classification determination, schools who believe their school demographics unfairly place their team sports (Football, Hockey, Basketball, Baseball, Lacrosse, Soccer, Softball, and Volleyball) in a larger tournament classification may appeal their placement to the MSHSL office provided that the criteria below is met:
1.1 The schools’ free/reduced lunch counts provided to the League office by the Department of Education exceeds 50% of the school’s grade 9-12 enrollment.
This is how Minneapolis North is playing in the realm of teams like Goodhue that come from towns with a population of only 1,179. According to Minneapolis Public School documents, North has only 38 students in grades 9-12 that are not eligible for free/reduced lunch. A remarkable 87% of students at North are eligible for the free/reduced lunch program.
To be clear, Minneapolis North isn’t playing tricks on us or making kids magically disappear to get their enrollment to 199, but they are taking advantage, and rightfully so, of the above rule set out by the MSHSL.
The question that remained was ‘why’. In athletics, shouldn’t a student count as a student? Why is there a need to fudge the numbers based on who can or cannot afford lunch? I asked that question to Assistant Director of the MSHSL Chris Franson and here’s his response via email:
“About 10-12 years ago we had a special committee that looked at factors that contributed to kids going out for activities. One of the things they found was that a disproportionate number of kids who are on freed/reduced lunch participated in extra-curricular activities. That could be because they didn’t grow up playing the sports, or had extra family responsibilities, or the costs associated with being on the teams was too much. The committee felt that it was enough of a factor that we should include it in the enrollment calculation. They found that on average, there was a 40% higher participation rate in kids who weren’t on Free/Reduced Lunch.
“So the 50% appeal came into play about 10 years ago and it allows a school to drop one classification (if approved by the AD Advisory Committee and MSHSL Board) in a particular sport. We see a few in basketball, but the majority are in games where numbers matter, like football. We’ve only had about 20 schools who fit this criteria and are large enough that they could drop down a class. Most of those schools are Mpls. or St. Paul public schools, but we’ve seen it expanding out into the first ring suburbs like Fridley, Richfield, etc.”
The schools are playing by the rules that they are given, so don’t blame North or ‘the about 20 schools’ that fit the criteria. The question that remains is should this be a rule, should a school’s enrollment virtually change because of the amount of children they have on the free/reduced lunch program?
You can decide.