The issue: Shawnee High School had an increased ADM for 2017-2018 that will force them to move up athletics from Class 5A to Class 6A classification.
Local impact: Athletes, coaches and parents at Shawnee High School need to be prepared for the changes that classification upgrade will bring.
With a jump from Class 5A to 6A on the horizon for Shawnee athletics, residents are concerned about what this means for the school and its athletes as they prepare to face bigger competition.
The announcement after a release by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association of tentative Average Daily Membership for the upcoming school year was no surprise to Shawnee Athletic Director Todd Boyer or his coaches.
“We knew there was a distinct chance and we knew it was going to be close,” Boyer said.
When the numbers came down last Wednesday, Shawnee replaced Tulsa's Booker T. Washington with an ADM of 1305.54 to move from the top of Class 5A to the bottom of 6A schools.
Shawnee has been steadily increasing the amount of students enrolling in their schools with an ADM of 1265.03 from 2015-16 and 1283.13 last year. In contrast, Booker T. Washington had an ADM of 1311.40 from 2015-16, an ADM of 1311.40 last year and this year finds themselves sitting at an 1287.10 ADM.
That all meant that the swap was less of a question of whether it would happen and more a question of when. Much to the dismay of Boyer and the coaches, it came sooner than they had hoped.
“Our numbers have continued to grow over the last couple of years and we knew it was going to be really close,” he said. “We were hoping to get through one more cycle, and I think there are some communities over in the metro area and west side that will probably jump us here in a few years, but it is what it is. We're going to go out and compete and if you're a competitor you're going to go line up and compete.”
Since enrollment doesn't officially close until October of every year, the ADM is calculated using numbers from the previous school year's fourth quarter.
“Enrollment is not a true accurate reflection or indicator for 6A/5A potential moving forward. It is somewhat of a moving target and has many checks and balances. Additionally, as you saw from this year, folks around us and their ADM points/number also change and that can impact our class ranking as well,” Shawnee Superintendent Dr. April Grace said.
Some of those factors were consistent increases in attendance and graduation rate and growth in the freshman class and community as a whole, Grace said. The ADM for the high school has increased 18-20 each year for the past several years.
Whether the numbers will continue to keep climbing as Shawnee continues to grow and expand will determine how long they stay in the higher ranking, but it could be a short stint, like that of their previous foray in 2010.
One reason for that will be the opening of a high school at North Rock Creek in 2018. The new school isn't expected to take many students, but there could be enough of a drop for Shawnee to go back down to 5A. Boyer isn't worried about the prospect of the new school though.
“That's not a concern for us. We know we'll lose some kids that would come from North Rock Creek to here, but in the long run that may lower our ADM numbers a little bit,” he said. “In the long run we might lose some possibly good students along with good athletes, but it's not a concern for us.”
Boyer's lack of concern stems from the small size of the new school and his confidence in Shawnee's academics.
“When it's all said and done, out there, no one can compete with us academically. What we offer our kids academically, no one can compare to that in this county. We're very proud of what's going on at our high school academically, and athletically, our facilities are getting better and better every year and they are going to continue to get better.”
The change will see an immediate impact on some sports while others will have more time to prepare.
Fast pitch softball is fortunate enough to be locked into their 5A district for the next two years before they will need to change, Boyer said.
The football team has one more year left in their district and had already finalized a schedule prior to the new ADM being released, so they will not have to worry about the higher ranking until fall 2018.
Other teams that have their schedules finalized, like boys and girls basketball, will play in a Class 5A regular season but once the post-season rolls around they will begin playing 6A schools.
The three-time defending state champion baseball team will not have a shot to retain their 5A title and will have to make the jump this season under new coach Kevin Paxson. They will play 6A district opponents with the rest of their games available to schedule as they see fit.
The change from Class 5A to 6A won't have any meaningful impact in how teams prepare for and play games, Boyer said.
“They're going to go out and prepare our kids just like they always have. You're not going to coach any differently when you're in 6A compared to 5A,” he said. “Bottom line is we're going to go compete against great kids, great schools, great facilities and great coaches and we feel like we can match up with everybody who is going to be out there as well.”
Our facilities are getting better and better. It's not going to be different for our coaches or our kids. We're going to go out and prepare just like we always have. It may be a little tougher on some days and some nights, but we're going to go out and compete at a high level.”
While Shawnee is seeing renovations to the Stucker Complex and has plans for making updates to the tennis complex and baseball stadium, Jim Thorpe Stadium is unlikely to see any necessary changes for several years. The football stadium will be the only one to not transition to a turf field among class 6A schools and is one of only five schools in all of the top two classes to still use grass. Changes will happen though, Assistant Athletic Director and boys basketball coach Ron Arthur said.
“We'll have pretty good facilities and then we'll still have Jim Thorpe Stadium. We will have to again probably have to turn to more private funds to help renovate that, because it needs it. There's a lot of work that needs to go into it. We'll get it done though,” he said.
The last time Shawnee entered into the 6A realm was troublesome. The football team had an overall record of 4-16 in their two seasons in the higher class in 2010 and 2011 and the boys basketball team lost to Broken Arrow in the first round of regionals after coming off of a state tournament run the year before.
There are factors from then that won't be there this time around though.
The football team was listed as the 2010 preseason favorite in Class 5A before getting moved up to an undivided 6A group, meaning they had to play schools they had no place playing against.
This time around, they will be in a split up 6A to give them a level they can compete in, coach Billy Brown said.
“It'll be like playing the top 5A schools every week,” he said.
The change doesn't worry Brown though, who said he finds it more fun to coach and compete against quality teams.
“There are no gimme games. Everyone can beat everyone every week,” he said.
The Wolves are tentatively placed in 6A-II, District 2 with Bartlesville, Bixby, Booker T. Washington, Muskogee, Ponca City, Sand Springs and Sapulpa.
Arthur's boys basketball team didn't have the problem of the move to 6A last time around so much as the cycle that comes with high school sports having large groups of seniors in a season.
After the state bid in 2008-2009, Arthur lost eight seniors to graduation to give him a rebuilding season at an inopportune time.
“We had a lot of rebuilding that year and there were a lot of inexperienced kids. Broken Arrow that year had four kids that went on to play college basketball. So it was just one of those situations there,” he said.
That upper echelon of Division 1 college prospects is more likely to play a factor in the teams that they meet on the 6A level over that of 5A though.
“We have a good team coming back, but it was going to be a tough road for us to get back to the state tournament. I think the biggest difference though is you typically see more Division 1 type players at the 6A level than you do maybe at the 5A level,” he said.
The Wolves finished last season with a record of 17-9, lost in their opening round of the state tournament and lost one senior when Timmy Young graduated. Since then, the returning players have devoted their time in boosting their game and becoming a bigger threat this coming season.
They defied a lot of expectations in their successful 2016 season and can do that again this year even playing against 6A teams, Arthur said.
“Coaches may look at our schedule and see that we were playing 5A teams, but that's who we have to play, that's who's on our schedule, there's nothing we can do about that. We just have to go out there and do the best that we can with the schedule we have and hope that we get a good matchup in playoffs and go from there,” he said.
None of the changes are finalized yet, but the OSSAA is expected to approve the tentative ADM numbers and football district schedule in early August.