This week’s look at the work of the School Board focuses on a resolution directed at the governing bodies of interscholastic high school sports in Iowa. After its presentation and discussion at the June 4 meeting, the Board unanimously adopted the resolution on June 18.
When the North High School boys beat Ankeny in the sub-state basketball finals, 88-68, in March of 2017, the whole district celebrated the Polar Bears’ return to the state tournament for the first time since 1991. It was a triumphant moment, but it was an anomaly. The resounding win by an inner city school over a suburban juggernaut was an exception that proved the rule.
Both the Iowa High School Athletic Association (boys) and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union classify member schools based on enrollment figures from the previous year. That’s an obvious and legitimate criterion to employ, but there’s ample and steadily mounting evidence that others should be added to the formula in the interests of balanced competition and athlete safety.
Dan Sabers is the football coach at Iowa City High and he compiled irrefutable data demonstrating that glaring mismatches are inherent in the current classification setup for his sport.
For instance, during the last 10 years, DMPS high schools have played seven suburban schools (West Des Moines Dowling, West Des Moines Valley, Ankeny, Ankeny Centennial, Johnston, Waukee and Urbandale) 92 times in football. The city schools are 0-92, losing by an average score of 51-10.
Coach Sabers elaborated on the situation and how it might be addressed in an article last month in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
The resolution adopted by the Board on June 18 calls upon the IHSAA and the IGHSAU to “convene a committee…to make a recommendation to a joint board of both associations to resolve this issue in the 2019-2020 school year.” (Click here to read the resolution in its entirety.)
DMPS Superintendent Dr. Tom Ahart put the resolution in context during the Board discussion on June 4.
“When you look around the state at which schools tend to win the championships,” he said, “their level of FRPL (students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch, a leading indicator of a district’s general socioeconomic profile) averages around six or seven percent (the districtwide rate at DMPS is 76.2%). There are models in other states where socioeconomic status is factored into how schools are classified for athletics.”
In districts where money isn’t as much of an object, club sports and teams are a common experience for youngsters from early ages. They not only enter high school with more experience and training, they’re also more accustomed to playing with one another.
DMPS students are more likely to choose work as an afterschool activity than athletics, out of economic necessity. Recruiting sufficient numbers to field competitive teams is more of a challenge in underprivileged districts where losing is the expected outcome than it is in ones where championships are traditional and even being a third-stringer carries status.
Ahart described the status quo as nothing less than “an ethical quandary,” one that’s an important but overlooked aspect of the district’s emphasis on providing equity of opportunities across the whole spectrum of the high school student experience.
“Our first big ask,” he said, “is to shop this (resolution)…to districts around the state to put pressure on the athletics governing bodies to look at how we organize our activities…”
The goal is not to guarantee hollow victory. It’s to ensure a sporting chance versus commensurate opponents and offer a more enriching experience than losses by an average score of 51-10.
All kinds of injury occur on playing fields tilted so severely.