CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Plans to try four classifications of high school basketball have angered some school administrators, but others are pleased with the idea of change. Tom Wamsley, basketball coach at tiny Tygarts Valley High School in Mill Creek, West Virginia is among them.
“I think you’ll see the huge majority of small, rural schools wanted to see at least something tried. We think there’s a lot of factors, other than enrollment, that affects the advantages schools have and unless you’ve been in our situation, I don’t think anybody really understands that,” said Wamsley.
For years, there has been an outcry from smaller schools across the state to make changes and break the trend of those smaller schools being forced to compete with private institutions. Some of those private schools have dominated the ranks of class A in nearly all sports for many years.
But Wamsley says it’s less about private vs public and more about rural vs. urban schools. He claimed a small school in an urban environment carried a major advantage over schools in a rural setting.
“If I have kids who really want to excel at basketball, they have to travel an hour to two hours to find a facility and advantages and opportunities during the summer to play,” he said. “We just do not have that in rural communities,”
A list circulated during the Board of Control’s discussion of the idea earlier this year showed Tygarts Valley, under the proposed formula, would be the second smallest school in West Virginia, ahead of only Pickens School with a handful of students. But the formula is less than inviting to schools like Winfield, who only recently returned to the ranks of Class AA under the current enrollment based system. During the difficult years the Generals competed in Class AAA, times were lean.
In the lists circulated during the discussion of the pilot program, Winfield would jump from Class AA to Quad A, the only school to move two classifications. Principal Bruce McGrew and nearly the entire Winfield High School administration are outraged over the idea and shared their frustration with the State Board of Education this week.
For State Board of Education Member Tom Campbell, the change is important and recognizes the changing times.
“This should enable more kids to have an opportunity to participate in a state championship and it could motivate more children to participate and stay in school.” said Campbell.
Campbell said when the three class system was adopted there were a lot of similar size schools in West Virginia in close proximity to each other. Today, that isn’t the case. Consolidation has created a number of large schools and left a few smaller schools with a wide disparity of enrollment.
“Virginia and Nebraska have both gone to more classes in athletics,” Campbell said. “I think what they found is it provides more opportunities for more schools and more kids to participate.”
For Wamsley, he just wants the competition to be more balanced.
“We want a level playing field where we’re not competing against the urban schools and the schools that have all of those extra advantages just by their location,” he said.
“I applaud the SSAC for at least trying because they recognize there’s more to classifications than just enrollment. There are so many other advantages just by your location and not very many people understand it,” he said.