Denfeld News

April 18, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

MSHSL teaches hockey new geography
Opinion by Rick Weegman

Denfeld High School is just a 5.4-mile drive across Duluth from Central High School. Tack on another 1.3 miles — half that as the crow flies — and you’re at Marshall.

Yet, if one looks at the Minnesota State High School League’s classifications for boys hockey starting in the 2007-08 season, Denfeld isn’t even in the same area code as the others.

Denfeld has been moved from Section 2A into 5A. Central and Marshall, which also were part of 2A, both moved to 7A. For at least the next two years, and likely much longer, the three Class A Duluth schools will not be paired together in the section playoffs.

The high school league must be sponsoring some kind of new math — or geography.

“You probably can’t write what I want to say,” Denfeld hockey coach Kevin Smalley said with a chuckle Tuesday. “They talk about budget cuts and travel costs, but they don’t put all three Duluth schools in the same section. It doesn’t make sense if they are trying to save some money. It makes all the sense in the world to keep us together.”

Apparently not to the high school league.

While the majority of sections 5 (the old Section 2) and 7 stayed the same, defending state champion Hermantown was moved out of 7 and into 5. Hermantown beat Marshall in the Class A state championship game in March. The realignments keep those schools from playing in the same section, preserving the opportunity they might meet again in the state tournament.

But that’s not how the MSHSL came to its conclusions.

In hockey, the 64 largest schools and those that opt to play at the higher class are slotted into Class AA. The remaining schools are divvied up among the eight Class A sections at either 10 or 11 teams per section. That’s where geography enters the picture. Section 7 includes all the teams from the Arrowhead and Iron Range regions and then branches south to Duluth.

“Once you get to your 10 teams [per section], you’re done,” MSHSL associate director Chris Franson said. “There are five teams in the Duluth area and we only needed two to go in [Section 7].”

To decide which two, MSHSL officials drew a straight line from one school to another within the region — for example, Central to Greenway High School in Coleraine — and exclude any schools that fall outside that line. That included Central and Marshall’s Lake Superior Conference rivals Denfeld, Hermantown and Proctor.

It’s not a good practice for the MSHSL to split up teams from the same city. Rivalries should be preserved. Common sense should enter at some point.

Of course, this could be a moot point in a few years. If a Duluth school closes — as has been proposed — Denfeld and Central merge programs, or cooperatives involving Two Harbors or Ely emerge, then the Duluth-area schools might be reunited.

Hockey is not the only sport affected. Enrollment increases or decreases are the primary factor in the other changes. Among them:

* Hermantown joins Section 7AAAA in football and Esko moves up a class to fill the void in 7AAA.

* In volleyball, Hibbing, Hermantown and Cloquet drop a level to 7AA, while Esko crosses over from 5AA to make that section very difficult. Eight of the 12 teams in that section now reside in the southern part of the state. Carlton, a perennial power, also drops down to Class A.

* Duluth East moves up to 7AAAA in boys and girls basketball, while recent two-time state boys champion Braham is now in 7AA.

* Cloquet, Hermantown and Hibbing all drop from 7AAA to 7AA in baseball and softball.

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