DES MOINES, Iowa — Nothing sparkles quite like an Iowa state high school football championship trophy, but with that shine comes a glaring issue with a competitive imbalance.
“The disparity as you get older is evident with kids that maybe started sports later because of economic factors,” said Des Moines North activities director Chad Ryan.
This past fall, the Polars enjoyed their first four win season in decades. “Our team played at a high level against a lot of teams, but we also know the struggles behind the scenes when you deal with socioeconomic factors.”
From 2009 until 2021, the Des Moines public high schools had lost 128 straight games against the suburban schools until Des Moines Roosevelt defeated Waukee in 2021.
Final results Thursday from a weeklong voting timeline among 263 Iowa high schools showed 80% are in favor of new football classifications taking into account the amount of free and reduced lunch students are within a school district.
“The fact that we are having these conversations that we hadn’t had for years I think is a huge starting point,” said Ryan.
Data from the 2019- 2020 school year shared with the IHSAA showed Iowa high schools with over 80% of their population on free and reduced plans had an average winning percentage of around 20% in football, while schools with just 10-20% of their students on free and reduced plans had a 60% winning rate.
“For us participation is huge. Our numbers show if you participate at North your GPA is almost one point higher and your attendance is 15-20% better. Participation matters but to get participation sometimes you need some wins,” Ryan said.
The change would subtract 40% of a district’s free and reduced lunch program percentage from the school’s total BEDS enrollment to determine its final classification number. Right now athletics classifications are based solely on enrollment size. “North is at 86-87% free and reduced lunch,” said Ryan. The DMPS district has 76% of its enrollment on free and reduced meal plans.
The current calculations would drop Des Moines Lincoln from the 4th largest school to the 20th. It would drop Des Moines East from the 6th largest school to the 31st. Des Moines Roosevelt would drop from the seventh largest to the 32nd, but with all remaining in the top 36 they still remain in class 5A. Hoover is currently in 4A and would drop from the 50th largest to the 64th, but remain in 4A. Currently, the only change could come with Des Moines North, which would presumably drop from the 31st largest to the 53rd largest and into 4A.
Perry High School is another school that would benefit. The Blue Jays abruptly ended its season in class 4A because of low numbers and fear of safety for its athletes against larger 4A schools. The Blue Jays could move from 70th largest down to 91st and into class 3A.
“I’m probably more excited for other sports to be brought into the conversation at some point and not just football,” said Ryan.
The changes will now need approval from the Iowa State Board of Education. The IHSAA plans to submit their vote results by December 27 so it can be put on the agenda for the January 12 meeting of the ISBE.
If the board passes the change, the new classifications will be put in place for the 2023 and 2024 football scheduling cycle.