Pospisil: Latest numbers show all Nebraska high school sports in need of enrollment cutoffs

Unless Norfolk, only two years removed from winning the state title, opts to stay in Class A — which is allowed on a sport-by-sport basis — the Panthers won’t be in Class A for the first time in almost a century for boys basketball.

Norfolk and Wahoo in Class B boys basketball.

Think about that.

Norfolk, two years removed from winning Class A, and Wahoo, the defending Class C-1 champion, landing in the same class for the 2019-20 season.

What an illustration that the state’s high schools need to put all sports, not just football, on enrollment cutoffs. The distribution of school enrollments no longer lends itself to the current method of putting the 28 largest schools in basketball and volleyball in Class A and the next 32 in Class B.

Sign up for daily headlines from NEPrepZone

Get a daily roundup of game recaps, player features and more in your inbox.

In the unofficial 2019-20 NSAA enrollment counts (grades 9-10-11 this year) released Wednesday, Norfolk is No. 29 with 503 boys and Wahoo No. 59 with 144. So unless Norfolk opts to stay in Class A — which is allowed on a sport-by-sport basis — the Panthers won’t be in Class A for the first time in almost a century for boys basketball.

But they will for girls basketball, and Wahoo will stay in Class C-1, too. This school year is the first in which the NSAA classifies most sports, except for track and cross country, based on gender counts. Norfolk has one more boy than girl, but Wahoo has 49 more boys than girls.

Schools that will be Class A in boys and girls basketball in 2019-20, in descending order of overall enrollment, are Omaha South, Omaha Central, Grand Island, Millard North, Millard South, Lincoln East, Lincoln High, Lincoln North Star, Omaha North, Lincoln Southeast, Omaha Burke, Lincoln Southwest, Omaha Bryan, Omaha Westside, Papillion-La Vista South, Papillion-La Vista, Lincoln Northeast, Bellevue West, Omaha Northwest, Kearney, Fremont, Bellevue East, Omaha Benson, Gretna and Elkhorn. Single-gender schools Omaha Creighton Prep (boys) and Omaha Marian (girls) also are in Class A.

Elkhorn South and Norfolk will be split. Elkhorn South is No. 27 in boys, Benson No. 28 (could be a warning sign, Omaha Public Schools) then Norfolk. In girls, Norfolk is No. 27 and Elkhorn South No. 30. The Storm are in a similar Class A boys/Class B girls split this season.

Elkhorn’s promotion to Class A will be short-lived. It will return to Class B in 2020-21 when it spins off Elkhorn North, also expected to start in Class B. Neither may stay there long.

Elkhorn has grown from 730 in 2015-16 to 812, then 912 and now 1,026, larger than Elkhorn South at 1,008.

Wahoo’s boys would be in Class B for the first time since winning its sixth title in seven years in 1994. Boys coach Kevin Scheef did his homework in the offseason and said he’s known since August that Sidney and Holdrege — the last two schools this season in B and the two ahead of Wahoo — would fall behind.

“It will be interesting to see what the NSAA does in the next five years as far as size of each class. Will they go more toward what they are doing in football, or will they keep each class at a set number?’’ Scheef said.

The NSAA is waiting too long to put all sports on the football cutoffs of 425 boys or girls for Class A and 160 for Class B.

If it were in place for next season, Class A would have 33 teams in boys basketball — Norfolk, Columbus, South Sioux City, North Platte and Lincoln Pius X would join the 28 — and 32 in girls (Columbus, Elkhorn South, North Platte and Pius included). Class B thus would have 23 boys teams and 21 girls teams.

This is the reality of population shifts in the state. Only 74 of the 305 NSAA member schools top 200 students in three grades. As the largest Class B school, Columbus will have four times more girls than Holdrege (481-119), the smallest in the class. How fair is that?

Any change is not likely before 2020-21. No proposal for 425/160 was brought up in legislative districts, and the NSAA has not reconvened its classification committee that a year ago chose the slow path of getting approval for single-gender counts first rather than packaging those with 425/160/70 (the Class C-1 cutoff for football) and risking a turndown.

Remember, too, how the Class A/B landscape will be changing in the next few years. Elkhorn North in 2020-21, far northwest and south-central OPS schools in 2022-23, possibilities for additional Lincoln Public Schools schools, Gretna possibly mid-decade adding a second high school, Bennington starting to see big yearly gains as it moves up the Class B chart. Wahoo may have enough growth to stay in the top 60.

If changes aren’t made, is it good for the state to have Grand Island and Kearney as the only Class A schools west of Memorial Stadium? And if a school is Class A in football, where it is a numbers game, shouldn’t it be there in everything?

Some other gleanings from the new numbers:

» If these enrollments were used for football, new Class C-1 champion Aurora and Platteview would return to Class B. Omaha Gross will have to keep its co-op with Bellevue Cornerstone to stay Class B. Gross is at 149 boys, with Cornerstone adding 35. There would be 32 schools in Class A — assuming South Sioux City continues to opt down — and 25 (two more than the current two-year cycle) in Class B.

» Sidney’s expected decline from Cabela’s shedding jobs fortunately is defying predictions. It’s among the largest schools in Class C-1.

» Lincoln, which didn’t have one of the 10 largest schools immediately after the opening in the 2000s of Southwest and North Star, has three — East, North Star and Lincoln High.

» Omaha South has the largest boys and overall enrollment, with Omaha Central having the most girls. Grand Island is 18 away from joining those two with 2,000 students.