FARGO — Fargo North and Fargo South will not play at the highest level of North Dakota high school football next year, while Fargo Shanley will opt to continue in the top class.
New classifications for football take effect next fall that split the 22 schools competing in Class A in most sports into two classes for football — Class 11AA and Class 11A. North, South and Shanley were all assigned to Class 11A — the second division — by the North Dakota High School Activities Association based on male enrollment. But they had the option to opt up to the top class if they wished. North and South decided to compete at the assigned Class 11A, while Shanley opted to compete in 11AA.
Both Grand Forks Central and Grand Forks Red River announced this summer that they would play in Class 11A.
“That conversation has been ongoing since the spring,” Fargo North activities director Travis Chrstensen said. “It probably went on the extreme back burner for 4 or 5 months with the COVID situation. But since we’ve gotten back into the school setting when football started up, we started having those conversations again.”
As of the most recent list posted to the NDHSAA website, Class 11AA will consist of Minot, West Fargo Sheyenne, Williston, West Fargo, Bismarck Century, Bismarck Legacy, Bismarck, Fargo Davies, and Mandan, and Shanley.
And Class 11A will be Dickinson, Grand Forks Central, Fargo North, Grand Forks Red River, Fargo South, Jamestown, Watford City, Devils Lake, Valley City, Wahpeton, Bismarck St. Mary’s, and Turtle Mountain. Dickinson and Grand Forks Central were both originally assigned to Class 11AA but opted down to 11A.
Requests to opt up or down a division for next season are due this Friday, Sept. 18. The new guidelines from the NDHSAA allow for teams to request a change to their classification every year.
“The guidelines allow for some flexibility and we will continue to monitor where we are at in the future,” Beaton said. “This is where we are in 2021 and we will monitor whether this continues to be the best fit for us moving forward.”
Despite playing in separate divisions, the reclassification should still allow for the Spartans and Bruins to continue playing the Class 11AA Fargo metro schools.
“It’s built with the idea of cross-divisional scheduling able to occur,” Christensen said. “These decisions will be made once they have final division assignments, I’d envision ADs getting together to build a schedule. We’ll see how many teams from your division you have to play to be playoff eligible. But I fully envision us having a mix of A and AA schools on our schedule.”
The Deacons are currently opting to play up a class, competing in the current Class 3A after spending several years at Class 2A, winning state championships in that class in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2018. They opted up to Class 3A in 2019 and went 6-3 and just missed the playoffs. They are off to a 3-0 start this year.
“Consideration as given to the level of competitiveness over the past two seasons at the AAA-level, even though this current season is only beginning to be underway,” Shanley activities director Michael Breker said in a press release. “Shanley’s coaches, players and community look forward to continuing play at the highest level.”
Fargo South has historically been a power in the top class of North Dakota high school football, winning state championships in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2013. The Bruins went to the state playoffs last year in Class 3A with a 6-3 regular-season mark before falling to Bismarck Century in the first round. The Bruins are 0-3 so far this season.
“Certainly where we’ve been in the past played a role in the discussion about what was best for our kids,” Beaton said. “But we had to do everything we could to put our kids in the best position to keep them safe.”
The Spartans made the playoffs as recently as 2018, but went 2-7 last season and are 0-3 so far this season.
“Historically you look at where we are now and this new setup is going to be different than it was in the past,” Christensen said. “It’s still in the Class A school grouping which is where we have been and where we will continue to be. This just looks at the enrollment factor. Tha majority of the conversation is about where we are right now and where do things project.”