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Mount Vernon/Plankinton moving to 11-man football after appeal fails

PIERRE -- The Mount Vernon/Plankinton co-op will play 11-man football during the 2017 and 2018 seasons after the South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors denied an appeal Wednesday for the Titans to remain in nine-man football.

A motion to approve MVP’s waiver failed by a 6-3 margin during the SDHSAA board meeting in Pierre.

The Mount Vernon and Plankinton school districts jointly appealed seeking a waiver to use a two-year grace period to remain in nine-man football but the dispute centered on what enrollment figures should be used. Figures from the South Dakota Department of Education taken in September for future grade levels put MVP over the 56 male student threshold that would move them from Class 9AA to Class 11B.

But the schools contested that on Dec. 2, 2016 -- the SDHSAA’s date for collecting the average daily membership used for classification -- the two schools had three fewer male students and were under the 56-student threshold for future grades, meaning they should stay in Class 9AA. Additional enrollment figures indicated that MVP will return to 9-man classifications for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, leading MVP to pursue a grace period waiver.

For the first time in the 2017-18 classification year, schools were required to base their appeal to remain in nine-man football using published South Dakota Department of Education enrollment figures and show that the enrollment of the team will return to the nine-man level after a two-year grace period. The figures used then are from September and include grades 7-through-9.

Mount Vernon Superintendent Patrick Mikkonen argued that policy didn’t intend to use numbers that were no longer valid, especially given that the enrollment counts were taken at two different parts of the school year. He said it wasn’t right that MVP would have be forced to move to 11-man football due to three students who no longer attended the school.

“Was it the board’s intent to, in our opinion, classify us to play 11B football on numbers that aren’t real,” Mikkonen asked. “They’re not current. They don’t exist. Those three males aren’t in our school system. Even though this is a two-year alignment, we would be bouncing back and forth. ... That’s what this grace period is there to avoid.”

MVP’s case was the first to come before the board since the new grace period policy was enacted in June 2016.

SDHSAA assistant executive director John Krogstrand recommended that the board deny the appeal with concern about the precedent the ruling would set and said the Department of Education’s figures are an unbiased and transparent source for all schools to use on appeals.

“We had a couple of schools that are moving into 11-man football this year that maybe their numbers, if they could have used their own numbers as opposed to the DOE numbers, might have been able to get below the (56-student) number (on appeal) and never even considered that as an opportunity,” Krogstrand said.

Board Member and Sioux Falls School District Superintendent Brian Maher said he was empathetic to MVP’s appeal but said the rule was laid out to make the playing field as level as the state could make it.

“I think in order to make this as clear as we can, we need to come up with a date that allows us to be consistent,” he said. “Whether that’s the last Friday in September or the first Friday in December, that’s something the board can consider at a later date.”

MVP plans to continue having its junior varsity and middle school programs to play nine-man games to prepare for a likely varsity return to that style of play in 2019, despite potential scheduling issues for subvarsity teams.

Prior to the vote, Mikkonen said the co-op would accept the board’s decision and would play in Class 11B if needed and “hopefully be competitive,” even if the process was frustrating.

“We’re going to take our kids in our district and put them in a classification based off a number that we know is inaccurate,” Mikkonen said. “I have a problem with that.”