BEMIDJI -- Thirteen sports programs at Bemidji High School face class realignment for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years, all of which now face higher competitive and logistical challenges.
The Minnesota State High School League revealed its section and class assignments on Thursday, which it does once every two years, and the news was unfavorable for BHS. The Lumberjacks will now compete in the highest class for every sport other than football.
The enrollment at Bemidji High School was a mere handful of students over the threshold for many of the teams to stay in their current classes. The school also appealed to drop down a class for the seven sports it was allowed to appeal but was denied by the MSHSL.
The widespread reclassification is not a welcome one in Bemidji.
“Our numbers just don’t add up, the amount of kids we have competing in our schools, versus the amount of kids (other highest-class programs) have competing at their schools,” BHS activities director Troy Hendricks said.
All 13 of the teams will be moving up to their sport’s highest class within Section 8. Boys and girls basketball were bumped up to Section 8-4A, as were baseball and softball. All those teams are displaced from their typical home in Section 8-3A.
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams will make the jump from Class A to Class AA. The boys transition from Section 5A to 8AA, while the girls move from 8A to 8AA.
The MSHSL also previously approved an expansion for an additional class in volleyball, track and field, cross country and soccer starting in 2021-22, which now affects the Lumberjacks in each instance. The volleyball team will move up a class to the new Section 8-4A, while the track and field and cross country teams are up to the new Section 8-3A. And, in perhaps the most surprising move, the Bemidji soccer teams will jump from Section 8A straight to Section 8-3A.
“We don’t belong in 4A basketball in my mind, based on geography and based on a lot of things,” Hendricks said as an example. “I think that there are advantages to being in the metro, and having the facilities, the ability to prepare to play at a higher level.”
Football (Section 8-5A) will be the school’s only sport not in the highest class for the next two years.
Breaking down the numbers
As defined by the league, “MSHSL enrollment is determined by the school’s Minnesota Department of Education enrollment in year one in grades 9-12 minus 40 percent of their educational benefit (free and reduced lunch).”
Bemidji High School’s enrollment in 2019-20, which is the figure used by the MSHSL for alignment for 2021-22 and 2022-23, was 1,294 students.
In girls swimming, the school was over the limit to compete in Class A by one student. Boys swimming and baseball were each seven students over the limit to remain in their current classes.
BHS was 14 students over the limit in boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls track, softball and volleyball.
Bemidji High School is the 61st-largest high school in Minnesota, according to the enrollment numbers from the MSHSL. The league also uses those rankings as a method to help determine classification, often grouping the top 64 schools into the highest class.
At the time of the last reclassification period in 2019, Bemidji’s enrollment was 1,216 and ranked 67th among MSHSL member schools.
“Our numbers were up slightly, and this is based on last year, not this year,” Hendricks said. “Numbers were up slightly, and our free and reduced lunch was down slightly last year, which put us right over the top on all these sports, instead of just below.”
Conversely to many of their peers at BHS, boys hockey and wrestling opted up a class once again.
Any schools with enrollments under 1,299 can play in Class A boys hockey, but the Lumberjacks -- longtime members of Class AA -- will remain in Section 8AA. (The Class A enrollment limit in girls hockey is 1,128, so Bemidji was automatically placed in Class AA.)
The wrestling team could also move down to Class AA if desired, as BHS is well below the enrollment threshold of 1,353, but the Jacks are opting up to remain in Section 8-3A.
Geography will be a major challenge over the next two seasons. Outside of Moorhead and Brainerd, many Section 8 teams in the highest classes are in the Twin Cities metro.
“We can’t play teams in our section because it’s not financially feasible,” Hendricks said. “It doesn’t make any sense to drive south to play everybody who’s in your section. We just are not going to be able to do that for those two years. Schedules are already set for next year for the most part, so you can’t do it.”
Despite the newfound obstacles, Hendricks hopes that the move is a one-time thing before being able to drop back down again in 2023.
“It’s two years,” he said. “I foresee it to change.”
To see all the MSHSL’s public documents pertaining to class and section assignments, visit mshsl.org/tournaments/competitive-sections.