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Add a sports class in North Dakota? We say yes

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When considering whether North Dakota should adopt a three-class system for its high school basketball and volleyball tournaments, focus on a quote by Mike McCall, athletic director at Wahpeton (N.D.) High School.

"The bigger schools are getting bigger, the smaller schools are getting smaller and there are schools left out in the middle," he said.

McCall hits it on the head, and that's why we believe North Dakota should adopt a three-class format for these sports. The proposal is being put to the North Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors and would divide the classes by the following enrollments: Class AA 400 and above, Class A 150-399 and Class B 149 and fewer. Teams could choose to play above their enrollment class, but not below. If the change happens—and it could as soon as 2019-2020—it would be evaluated every two years.

This is a good idea, and we hope it moves forward.

Interest in high school sports is fading in North Dakota. Just last week, the Herald reported attendance has fallen at many high school sporting events, with seven of eight ticketed sports in the Grand Forks School District showing a decline in ticket sales from 2017 to 2018. The decline in attendance isn't just depressing for those involved—quiet gymnasiums don't do much to stir a player's adrenaline—but the trend also is having an effect on the bottom line. Again using Grand Forks as an example, ticket revenues fell by more than $10,000 this year—about a 10 percent drop.

Whereas we don't know revenue totals from the rest of North Dakota, we do see anecdotal evidence of fewer people attending high school sports events.

And as we see attendance dropping, we also see participation numbers falling. A Forum News Service report last year noted that North Dakota football participation numbers dropped 19 percent from 2000 to 2016. That's football, not basketball, but it is an alarming trend that doesn't bode well for all high school activities.

Back to the proposal for three classes in basketball. It's a common occurance to expand sports classes as the big get bigger and the small get smaller. South Dakota added a third basketball class all the way back in 1986, and we believe that decision has been very popular and financially successful.

Adding a third division in North Dakota will add a layer of oversight and expenses, but it will pay for itself.

It will allow the fringe schools—Wahpeton, for instance—to distance themselves from large and growing districts such as the Fargo and West Fargo schools, whose large enrollments give them a distinct annual advantage.

It also will allow students from more schools to feel they have a legitimate chance to experience a state tournament. For many, that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

In turn, that might increase participation numbers. And as more kids play, and as more of those students and their fans believe there is a chance to play at a state tournament, attendance may see a bit of rise, too.

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