The Lovell Bulldogs are moving back to Class 3A for all sports except football, the Wyoming High School Activities Association announced recently.
Lovell Athletic Director Joe Koritnik confirmed the move Tuesday, noting that Lyman, currently competing in 3A, is projected to drop below not only Lovell but also Thermopolis in average daily membership in the two-year cycle that begins with the fall of 2014.
The WHSAA examines projected enrollment numbers for a two-year period by checking current sophomore and junior enrollment. In that system, Lovell’s ADM is not projected to grow. WHSAA estimates showed a two-year average of 214.357 for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, and the current projections call for an average ADM of 214.50 students for 2014-15 and 2015-16.
But Lyman has plunged from a current two-year average of 224.839 to a projected 203.50 over the next two school years, moving the school back into Class 2A and moving Lovell up. Thermop has a projected ADM of 209.5, so for a difference in five students, Lovell will play the likes of Star Valley (avg. ADM 717), Jackson (673), Cody (661) and Douglas (515.5), schools three times Lovell’s size.
“Lyman dropped quite a bit. That’s the kicker,” Koritnik said. “They not only dropped below us, they dropped below Thermopolis. They’ve been in that (bubble) position for the last six years, and we were in 3A with them a few years ago.
“Those are the figures they’ll use even if you lose a few kids after that. That’s the way it is.”
Lovell played in 3A for basketball, volleyball, wrestling, track and field and other sports in 2007-08 and 2008-09, a member of the West Conference with Lyman, Kemmerer, Pinedale, Jackson, Powell, Cody and Worland. After returning to 2A four years ago, Lovell dodged a bullet two years ago thanks to the emergence of Cheyenne South High School, which pushed schools one notch lower on the scale.
Current members of the 3A West are Cody, Jackson, Lander, Lyman, Mountain View, Pinedale, Powell and Star Valley. Members of the 3A East are Buffalo, Douglas, Glenrock, Newcastle, Rawlins, Torrington, Wheatland and, oddly, Worland.
Koritnik said there have been discussions among members of the Wyoming Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association about proposals to find more natural breaks in the classification system, perhaps even applying the football system, where Lovell is in the middle of the pack, to basketball and the other sports. But none of the ideas have ever been seriously considered.
“At the end of the day everything was defeated by the districts and ultimately the WHSAA,” Koritnik said. “They discussed the pros and cons of each proposal and at the end of the day left everything the way it was. What looks good to 2A and 3A also affects 1A.
“We liked something similar to the football alignment. It seems right for our enrollment, competing with schools like Kemmerer, Lyman, Mountain View and Glenrock.”
The problem with 3A, Koritnik said, is the huge disparity in enrollment from the largest schools to the smallest, a difference of 503 students between Star Valley and Lovell compared to a difference in 2A of 113 students between Thermopolis and Riverside.
While Cheyenne South allowed Lovell to stay in 2A for two more years, the new school also pushed huge Star Valley into 3A, making it even more difficult for a small school like Lovell to compete, especially in individual sports like wrestling and track and field, Koritnik said. When Lovell was in the 3A West a few years ago, there were more schools around Lovell’s size. Kemmerer’s projected ADM has plunged to 176.5.
“Suddenly, Star Valley is atop 3A, and we’ll play Star Valley, Jackson, Lander, Cody and Douglas,” Koritnik said. “Kemmerer and other teams that were 3A are now 2A. So it will be a little tougher this time.
“Our kids and coaches will respond like they did the last time. They’ll work hard to compete.”
The current difference between the largest to smallest teams in football will be a projected 488 in Class 3A and 181 in 2A, making that system more fair, Koritnik said.
“It’s not that you can’t compete. Our teams will compete,” he said. “But there should be better equity. But it comes down to the logistics of Wyoming with few schools and considering the proximity to each other.
“They should think out of the box. The state is stuck in a 16-team 3A, but maybe it shouldn’t be tied to the number of teams but rather where there’s a competitive break and schools are fairly balanced.”
Another issue concerning Koritnik is travel. Noting that Worland is currently in the east, he said an athletic director joked during a recent meeting about putting Lovell in the east when reclassification is completed, meaning Lovell would travel to Newcastle, Rawlins, Torrington and Wheatland for conference games. He said Lovell would never accept that.
Conference alignments will be discussed during a meeting of all 3A athletic directors on Monday, Oct. 7, and Koritnik suggested that maybe an unbalanced conference alignment would be better. Worland would move back to the west and would not be replaced in the east, he said, creating nine teams in the west and seven in the east. While unbalanced, it would be a lot better for travel, he said.
“They are so caught up in nice, round numbers – eight and eight,” Koritnik said. “But I would rather deal with that (unbalance) than traveling to the east. There’s no sense playing Wheatland and Newcastle.”
If two eight-team conferences remain, Koritnik said it would be logical to bring Worland back to the west and move Lander to the east.
by David Peck