Viewpoint: North Dakota’s 3-class debate is all about resources

Failure to acknowledge the resource piece is failure in equity.

Ryan Cunningham
Contributed / Ryan Cunningham

While high school officials debate enrollments and delays before the Wednesday, Feb. 8, vote on a three-division plan for high school basketball in North Dakota, the elephant in the room is being ignored.

It's not enrollment – it's resources.

In Tom Miller's recent Herald piece on the subject, athletic directors from Hillsboro, Thompson, and Grafton offered thoughts of mixed feelings, hoping for delays until 2024-25.

Interestingly enough, the three districts they represent have all made significant expenditures in new, or upgraded, facilities. Simply put, these schools have economic resources available to them that their Class B counterparts in Drayton, Inkster, Hoople, Hope, Page and a host of tiny towns you've never heard of do not have.

Those resources have been devoted to winning. And it works.


If facilities do not matter, why build them? If they do matter, resources matter.

But no one wants to admit it.

When the multi-school co-ops dissolve (and several will) following the passage of this plan, the middle division will be left with communities with far more resources than the small, and far less than the big.

Failure to acknowledge the resource piece is failure in equity.

Bismarck and Bismarck Century have similar enrollments to Grand Forks Central and Red River. If they played hockey 40 times, Bismarck schools might win five. In football, at present, the opposite might be true.

Look at the resources in the community. Grand Forks is all in for hockey, and that is fine. It’s the culture of the city. Bismarck is all in on football, it's the culture of their city. For every hockey rink Grand Forks has, Bismarck has a turfed football field.

Facilities lead to participation, participation leads to commitment, commitment leads to wins, and wins lead to championships.

Enrollment, sheer numbers on a page, fail to explain this.


Hillsboro, Grafton and Thompson kids are far more centered to their basketball facilities than co-ops that achieve similar enrollment by pulling kids from McVille and Petersburg and Tolna and Michigan and Aneta, and now Lakota on the girls side.

A kid that has to cross the street to get to the gym, or weight room, or camp, has a far different choice than the kid that has a 30-mile drive.

The stalwart defenders of the current model would have us believe a kid is a kid, no matter their location or the amount of resources backing their athletic success.

They would also promote using their tax base to build facilities to be better than their competition, but disagree when someone claims they were successful in their efforts.

On delaying this another year, the argument seems to be centered around the juniors that will now see a significant change to their senior year. Apparently, we should delay it for them.

I would advocate for passing this for next year now, on behalf of the same junior class. Those juniors are in Valley CIty, playing schools with 1,200 kids on an enrollment of 350 since 1991. Those juniors are in Maple Valley, who would have one year, their senior year, where their path to success doesn't involve 50-point beatdowns at the hands of Central Cass.

There's no reason to delay being better when you can be better now.

Ryan Cunningham is the sports director at KNOX Radio in Grand Forks.

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