The Kansas Board of Education will consider a recommendation approved by the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) to effectively penalize successful private school teams in an effort to “level the playing field” with its public school competitors. But KSHSAA shied away from taking the same stand the last two years when the fairness issue was transgender athletes vs. biological girls.
In the 2020-21 school year, KSHSAA-member private schools, only 8% (28) of all high schools, won a remarkable 36% of state championships in which they were eligible to compete. A review of the history of state championships shows a decidedly private school flavor among the leaders in Classes 2A-5A.
St. Thomas Aquinas of Overland Park, Kapaun Mt. Carmel, and Bishop Carroll, both of Wichita, take the first three positions in 5A. 4A is headed by Bishop Miege of Roeland Park and Topeka Hayden. The 3A leader is Wichita Collegiate, and the top spots in 2A belong to Sacred Heart in Salina and Pittsburg’s St. Mary’s-Colgan.
The KSHSAA proposal is known as Rule 5:
As reported in the Butler County Times-Gazette, it employs an “enrollment multiplier” to artificially inflate the student body populations of affected schools with the intention of elevating the most successful teams into the next highest classification. (Schools can only be moved up one class, and 8-man football programs will not be forced to compete with 11-man squads.)
The proposal is three-phased; the second and third phases, however, are not activated unless the first one is reached.
- Championships Won: If a school has earned 10 championships in any sport over a 5-year period, a multiplier of .3 is added
- Location: If a smaller school is located within a 5A or 6A district, another .3 is added. If located within a 3A or 4A district, add .15. The purpose is to dissuade private schools from recruiting public school athletes.
- Socio-economic: If a private school has fewer than 20% of its student body receiving free- or reduced-price lunches, another .15 is added to its population total as its signifies a more prosperous school with greater resources to support its athletic and scholastic programs.
For example, a 3A private high school with a mid-level enrollment of 250, with the 10 championships, located in a 4A, 5A, or 6A district, and fewer than 20% on reduced or free lunches, would see its “population” soar to 438, and into 4A classification.
After the KSHSAA Board of Directors overwhelmingly approved the proposal, it was sent to member schools for review and vote. There was far more support among the smaller schools, indicating the fairness issue is of more concern in Classes 1A-4A.
- 1A: 74-43 For
- 2A: 43-21 For
- 3A: 46-18 For
- 4A: 30-6 For
- 5A: 19-17 Against
- 6A: 30-6 Against
The measure passed 242-111, with a 68% majority, setting the state for action by the State Board of Education.
Rep. Tim Johnson of the 38th District, a retired teacher and coach, supports the proposal from experience:
“Three times as a coach and or parent, I have watched my top-notch 4A team be destroyed in state playoffs by a private school with depth and lineups featuring an array of talent from across the entire metro area.
“I cannot believe the private schools do not want to win championships at higher divisions and earn them with coaching, hard work, and no unfair advantages.
“My Hall of Fame high school coach Walt Shublom who won 10 state 5A/6A state basketball championships and took three second-places finishes at Wyandotte HS, always said, ‘to be the best, you have to play the best’. Let’s give private schools an opportunity to prove themselves.”
Some observers see a double standard in the KSHSAA position, noting its efforts to address what it sees as competitive disadvantages suffered by public schools in athletic competitions when the organization demurred the last two years on the question of transgender athletes competing against biological girls. KSHSAA took a neutral position each year on the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”, sponsored by Wichita Republican Sen. Renee Erickson. Each year, the measure failed to override Governor Laura Kelly’s veto.
Executive Director Bill Faflick says the legislation was a solution in search of a problem:
“Relative to transgender participation, recent data does not suggest an imbalance of success and our membership continues to follow a policy adopted approximately ten years ago. No member school administrator nor board member has asked us to consider modification of this policy. Accordingly, the KSHSAA has taken no further action on the transgender issue as detailed in the proposed legislation from Sen Erickson as the evidence of unfairness has not developed for our membership.”
On the issue of private vs public school competition, Faflick said input was received statewide and this solution addresses a long-standing problem:
“The decision to send the item under consideration through the amendment process was based upon recent historical data demonstrating the private school members win a greater percentage of championships when compared to the percentage of membership comprised by private schools. It has been repeated as a theme needing attention for several years.”