Fargo Shanley's decision to go big in football has had a direct impact on Devils Lake High School.
The North Dakota High School Activities Association is expected to finalize proposed football assignments for the 2019 and 2020 seasons at its board of directors meeting Thursday. Teams are classified according to an enrollment formula, with the 16 largest schools in the Class AAA division.
Devils Lake would have been the smallest school in AAA. But Shanley opted to move up from Class AA to AAA, leaving Devils Lake as the largest school in Class AA, the division in which it currently plays.
"Thank goodness Shanley opted to move up so we can stay,'' Devils Lake athletic director Jason Wiberg said. "We fit better in AA with our numbers.
"We've been on the bubble, bouncing up and down between AA and AAA. There are years we can be competitive in AAA. There also are years when we're not that competitive in AA.''
In general, Wiberg said, the Firebirds have been less successful in AAA. The numbers game has worn Devils Lake down, he said, as the AAA teams generally have fewer players starting on both offense and defense than a smaller school like Devils Lake does.
"And over the years, our participation numbers seemed to decline when we were in AAA,’’ Wiberg said. “Kids get sick of getting beat up. I'm not saying it isn't physical in AA. But it's worse in AAA.''
The last loss suffered by Hillsboro-Central Valley was in the 2016 Class AA state playoffs. The Burros were undefeated Class A state champions last season and are undefeated and No. 1 ranked this season.
Next season, Hillsboro-CV is heading back to Class AA.
"We'll be playing schools bigger than us,’’ H-CV coach Scott Olsen said. “That will be a challenge. But I think we can compete with anybody.''
The big change, Hillsboro athletic director Dave Nelson said, is travel. Instead of its current schedule against teams in southeast North Dakota, the Burros could face road trips to Watford City, Stanley and Belcourt in AA.
"Travel will definitely be more costly,'' Nelson said.
Grafton is going from the smallest school in AA to the largest in Class A.
The Spoilers are 7-25 in AA since the start of the 2015 season. "Based on our enrollment and the success we've had the last 3-4 seasons, it will be a good switch for us,'' Grafton superintendent Darren Albrecht said. "I feel we'll be more competitive.''
To get to Class A, Grafton dropped co-op agreements with St. Thomas and Drayton, schools that had a total of two players with the Spoilers this season. "It wasn't easy to do,'' Albrecht said. "We had to look at the numbers. We had conversations with those schools. There are no ill feelings.''
Also moving to Class A will be current 9-man teams Thompson and Hatton-Northwood. Thompson is undefeated and the top-ranked 9-man team in the state.
"If we can sustain the numbers we have now, we feel we can be competitive (in Class A),'' Thompson athletic director Jason Schwabe said.
"If you have the participants, coaches will be able to make the adjustments going from 9- to 11-man.''
After Drayton was dropped from its co-op with Grafton, the school plans to field a 6-man team next season.
"There are kids who like to play football, but they want to have practices and games at Drayton,'' Drayton superintendent Dean Ralston said. "When we met with our kids who will be in grades 9-12 next year, 14 said they would be interested in playing 6-man.''
Ralston said the daily travel time playing with Grafton probably kept several students from playing this year. Ralston said he understands Grafton's decision.
"They weren't interested in remaining AA, so they decided to dissolve the co-op. And I absolutely can't blame them,'' Ralston said. "Grafton is about the same size as (Class A teams) Park River and Langdon. Competing with those schools is where they need to be.''
Larimore was projected to move from 9-man to 11-man Class A. With only 13 players this season, seven of whom are seniors, Larimore instead will play an independent 9-man schedule the next two seasons.
"We don't have the kids participating to go 11-man,'' Larimore athletic director Patti Aanenson said. "We'd be looking at potentially 14 kids next year. Eight would be freshmen. Our concern is the safety of our young kids.''