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Greg DeVillers / Forum News Service, Published May 11 2013

Change may be afoot for ND Class B basketball, volleyball

GRAND FORKS – The days of North Dakota Class B district tournaments may be numbered.

The current format in volleyball, boys basketball and girls basketball throughout the state of North Dakota has each of the 16 districts advancing four teams from a district to a regional tournament. That format is in jeopardy because of the declining number of teams throughout the state.

In southwest North Dakota, Region 7 has received approval from the North Dakota High School Activities Association’s board of directors to eliminate its district tournaments. Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, it will adopt a so-called super regional, with all-district teams qualifying for the region tournament.

More regions are expected to follow Region 7’s lead.

“When I started, we had eight teams in our district in basketball and volleyball,” said Rich Rogers, the Langdon (N.D.) superintendent and athletic director who has been at the school since 1997. “We always had seven or eight for a long time. But the number of athletes participating has been dropping. The school enrollment numbers have dropped. That’s forced a lot of co-oping.

“I don’t think 15 years ago that anybody thought about the day when district tournaments would be dropped.”

Langdon could soon be headed for a volleyball super regional. In Region 4 volleyball, of which Langdon is a member, there are only six teams in District 7 and five in District 8. Administrators say they plan to apply for a super-regional beginning in 2014.

“I would think it will be the wave of the future,” said Mayville-Portland-C-G principal Scott Ulland, who is president of the NDHSAA board of directors. “We just talked at our last board meeting about the need to do something. I think the (declining) number of teams will dictate it.

“Our board has reshuffled to try to keep at least six teams in each district. But we re-district, then we run into more new co-ops. We’re approving new co-ops every year.”

Imbalance in districts

The first order of business may be major re-districting. Currently, there are imbalances in some areas of the state.

In Region 3, for instance, there will be only five boys and five girls basketball teams in both District 5 and District 6 next season.

Directly to the region’s east is Region 1 in the southeast corner of the state, which will have a total of 16 teams in it.

“If I’m in Region 1, I have to beat 15 teams to get to state,” said Park River High School superintendent Kirk Ham, a member of the NDHSAA board of directors. “Right next door, they have to beat nine. Is that fair? No, it’s not.”

Justin Fletschock, an assistant to the executive secretary at the NDHSAA, said several regions are at least looking into a super-regional format.

“But before we get to super regional, there will probably be some realignment,” Fletschock said. “Right now, we’re doing a survey to see where the schools are currently at (on super-regionals). We’ll take a look at that data in June and try to form a plan from people’s ideas.

“I think we want to see how it goes in Region 7. But, just because of the decreasing number of teams, it looks like it is something that will happen. It seems like more and more schools are interested in that.”

Ham said that realignment could spark more discussion on super-regionals. “When schools see that they’re in six-team districts, does it make sense to have a three-day district tournament to eliminate two teams,” Ham said.

Region 2 approval

Just last week, administrators in Region 2 in northeast North Dakota met to discuss the possibility of adopting a super-regional. And the landscape has changed.

Ham said a year ago, some schools indicated a reluctance to adopt a super-regional. But last week, a straw vote at the meeting was unanimous in favor of moving forward with a plan to adopt super-regionals in volleyball and boys and girls basketball. “That doesn’t mean everybody approves the plan. We’re still looking at all the options,” Ham said.

Region 2 currently has 13 teams in boys and girls basketball (seven in District 3 and six in District 4) and 14 in volleyball (seven in each district). Ham said there will be adjustments made on the region’s super-regional plan over the summer and, if region schools accept it, the plan could be presented to the NDHSAA board for approval in the fall.

Ham said Region 2 administrators are looking at implementing the super-regional in the 2014-15 school year. That would drop district tournaments, in which profits are split among member schools. Because of declining attendance, however, administrators say that wouldn’t be a major economic loss.

“There are still some legitimate concerns,” Ham said. “For instance, if a team gets a first-round bye, it has a 12-day gap between games. That long layoff isn’t desirable. And there are some concerns about the lost revenue.”

But, Ham said, “I didn’t get the feeling that there was a reluctance to go forward. Schools that voted against this a year ago now are saying that they’re open to it. I think the feeling is that something is going to happen eventually. So we want to be proactive.”

Ham is a former Class B player and coach. To drop the districts would come with mixed feelings.

“It’s what I grew up with,” Ham said. “Back then, there were 10 to12 teams in the districts. It was exciting to get to the regional.

“But it’s exciting to go forward with this. The landscape has changed. What we’re doing now isn’t working. I think this could put a jolt into the excitement for the tournaments and the sports.”

For now, it is individual regions looking at the switch to super-regionals. Whether the NDHSAA board would at some point mandate the change remains to be seen.

But changes seem inevitable.

“I’d be surprised if it hasn’t been a topic in every region,” Rogers said. “Like us, there are other regions with smaller numbers. That’s what is driving this. It doesn’t make any sense to have a district tournament where you eliminate one or two teams and four teams move on to the regional.”

DeVillers writes for the Grand Forks Herald