MSHSAA members narrowly vote to approve four

If you’re one of those people looking for signs the economy is rebounding, you can take heart with some recent decisions made by the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

MSHSAA announced Thursday member schools had voted yes on proposals to add bowling, bass fishing, target shooting and chess as activities sponsored by the association.

While that doesn’t mean MSHSAA will offer championships immediately those activities — there are hurdles to overcome before that happens — they’re now under the same umbrella as traditional offerings like football, basketball, softball and baseball.

And the reason why the new ones are all coming in now? They were finally placed on the ballot in a lump thanks to the economic situation not being quite so dire.

“The activities have been on the stove for several years, the last four or five, but the board of directors about four years ago came out and said, ‘Listen, we’re not going to look at adding anything that’s going to cost our schools more out of their budgets until the economy starts to turn around,’” said Jason West, communications director for MSHSAA. “... We felt it was time we needed to bring it back before the board. ... That’s the biggest reason why we’ve added four activities this time instead of maybe having one activity over the last four years. It’s all coming together right now.”

None of the decisions was a slam dunk. Needing a simple majority to becoming an “emerging activity” — or one that could eventually offer a championship — all four got just a few more yes votes. The biggest margin was for bowling (289 yes, 233 no), followed by bass fishing (275-247). Target shooting passed by just six votes (264-258), while chess made it by 12 (267-255).

They join five other emerging activities already offered — boys volleyball, boys softball, girls field hockey, boys lacrosse and boys water polo.

It’s a tough road to travel from emerging activity to one offering a state title, as the last to do it was 8-man football, and that happened back in 1988. To be eligible to offer a state championship, an activity must have at least 50 participating schools in at least three of the state’s eight board districts for two years in a row.

“Boys volleyball is the most popular (out of those) — it has 40 schools in three board districts,” West said. “So if they were to get 10 more over two years and have 50, they could have a championship series. I know at the athletic directors’ conference last month at Tan-Tar-A (Resort), they had an exhibition booth trying to promote their sport and get people involved in it.”

On the other end of the spectrum is ice hockey.

“There are several schools in the St. Louis area that have their own state championship, but they’re perfectly fine, from our understanding, of being club teams,” West said. “They would rather be a club team than be a MSHSAA-sanctioned sport with all the regulations.”

Several other issues passed on the 19-proposal ballot. Those of note include:

• Softball offering another state-championship season. State titles will be contested in both the fall, as it currently exists, and adding another in the spring.

As it stands, there are 75 schools that currently offer spring softball. While the fall season currently offers state titles in four different classes, the spring season would offer only one. There would have to be 129 schools playing in the spring before it would break into two classes, raising the possibility of larger schools playing in the same class as much smaller ones.

“The likelihood of that happening, though, is unlikely, because those larger schools are going to want to play against the best competition,” West said. “The reason a school would be in the spring series is because they just don’t have the numbers (of athletes). That’s one of the biggest rationales for wanting a spring series is because they don’t have enough student athletes to have a volleyball team, to have a cross country team, and have a softball team, all at the same time.”

Teams will have to declare in which season they’re going to compete for a state title.

“Right now you can play both fall and spring, but with this new language, you wouldn’t be able to necessarily do that,” West said. “If you register for fall, you’d be eligibile for the fall championship. Now, when the spring rolls around, you would be able to play games, but you wouldn’t be eligible for the championship.

“On the other side, if you register for the spring series, that’s telling us you don’t have enough students to have a team in fall, so you would not be able to play any games in the fall. You would only be able to play in the spring.”

• The track and field championships will expand from four classes to five, starting in 2014.

As the system currently stands, Class 1 and 2 schools meet with Friday and Saturday sessions one week, followed the next week by the Class 3 and 4 schools in a similar setup.

West said Harvey Richards, associate executive administrator for track and field and cross country, has been studying possibilities for how the schedule would have to be adjusted to add another class.

“He’s been working on this for a couple years,” West said. “This was voted down once and came back through on petition. So he’s had some time to put some plans together and he’s got a couple different scenarios to get everything fitting in.”

Coaches and other school officials will have a chance to voice their opinions on the options before a decision is made, but ultimately, the decision lies with the MSHSAA board of directors.

“One of (the board’s) responsibilities is the implementation part of the playoffs,” West said. “That doesn’t require a vote of the whole membership. Much like the football playoff system, we want to get as much input as we can, but the decision ultimately lies with the board of directors, not the full membership.”

• Speaking of the football playoffs, those will get impacted by another ballot decision, as practice for fall sports will now start a week earlier.

“That domino effect may have an impact on the fall sports and their championship seasons,” West said.

Softball teams will see their season last a week longer, while West said volleyball could hold its championships a week earlier. And the football playoffs could become less compressed during the early stages.

“Instead of having that Wednesday, Monday, Saturday (setup for the first three games), now that would be Friday, Friday, Friday,” West said. “I know that’s been a big push for the football coaches and the sports-medicine people.”

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