In recent years, about the only constant for Class B football teams has been change.
Enrollment numbers ebb and flow, teams shift up and down classes, and new squads move in and out of regions every two years. Nothing is static.
A major shift in the football classification system by the North Dakota High School Activities Association this season is no big deal. They’ve been through it before.
“Everybody is talking about reclassification and everything, for us, every couple of years for the last eight years, since I’ve been here, everything has completely changed,” said Lisbon coach Joe Gerding, who led the Broncos to a Class 1A runner-up finish last year. “Four years ago we were in Class 2A playing against (Fargo) Shanley, Wahpeton, Valley City, to playing in (Class 1A) Region 1 and now this year adding Kindred and Central Cass. It changes all the time.”
The old football classes — 9-man, 1A, 2A, and 3A — are gone. Football is now split up between Class A and Class B with two divisions in each class. The 22 Class A teams are split between Class 11AA and Class 11A, with 10 teams in the largest class and 12 in the smaller class. And Class B is split into an 11-man division (Class 11B) and a 9-man division (Class 9B).
Class 11B is made up mostly of teams in the old Class 1A along with the six Class B schools that used to compete in 2A.
“This is our third switch in six years,” said Scott Olsen, coach of the 2019 Class 2A champions, Hillsboro-Central Valley. “We’re happy to be where we’re at in this new class. We’ll get to face teams we usually face in every other sport.
“Hopefully we can stay in this class arrangement for awhile and develop some rivalries.”
This is the Burros’ fifth classification change since 2014, which has made it tricky to develop those football rivalries. They competed in Class 1A, Region 1 in 2014, moved up to Class 2A for 2015-16, bumped back down to 1A in 2017-18, then back up to 2A in 2019-20.
Now they’re in Class 11B, North-East region, meaning a whole new set of opponents. When they were in Class 1A in the past, they competed in the old Region 1, most of which moved into the new South-East region. Their schedule now mostly consists of former Region 2 schools, with which they play in basketball, but have rarely faced on the gridiron.
Only three of the Burros' nine games are against teams they played last year, and two of them — Kindred and Central Cass — are non-conference games. Grafton is the only team in the North-East region they played last season. They most recently played region foes Northern Cass in the 2018 regular season, Langdon Area in the 2017 and 2018 Class 1A state championship games, and Carrington in the playoffs in 2017. Thompson and Harvey-Wells County are recent unknowns in football.
“A school like Thompson — we’re rivals in every other sport that we play, but never got to play in football, the same with Grafton,” Olsen said. “Having them in our region and getting to build on those quality rivalries is what makes high school sports so special.”
While Olsen and the Burros are excited to see some of its geographically closest schools in its region, Northern Cass — the southernmost school in the North-East region — is a bit displaced. The Jaguars are separated from nearby Central Cass, Kindred, and Fargo Oak Grove, who are all in the South-East. The only region opponents Northern Cass has faced the last two years are Langdon Area and Thompson. Of its five road games, three are more than a two-hour road trip with two nearly three hours.
The South-East region is more centrally located, with few road trips exceeding two hours, except for last year’s 9-man state champions, Linton-HMB. The Lions’ four road trips are all more than two hours, with trips to Kindred and Central Cass closer to three. Oak Grove has a 3-1/2 hour trip to Linton on Oct. 1.
“You’ve got a team like Northern Cass that is close to the Fargo-area schools and they’re in the North-East, and then they stick Linton in with us,” Gerding said. “That’s a couple hours away for us, not to mention how far that is for a team like Oak Grove. (Linton) is kind of in no-man’s land over there. Do they put them in the South-West or the South-East? It’s a drive for them both ways.”
Both the South-East and North-East are shaping up to be highly-competitive.
The South-East is one of two regions in 11B with two schools who played in Class 2A last season — Kindred and Central Cass. Kindred went 6-2 last season and reached the 2A semifinals before falling to Bismarck St. Mary’s, which is now in Class 11A. Central Cass went 4-5 last year, but three of their losses were by seven points or less. It also features Lisbon , Class 1A runner-up from last season and Linton-HMB, last year’s 9-man state champ.
The North-East features three-time defending Class 1A state champions Langdon Area as well as 2017 Class 1A and 2019 Class 2A champs Hillsboro-Central Valley. Langdon and H-CV met in the 2017-and-2018 state championship games. The Cardinals and Burros meet on Oct. 1 in Hillsboro.
“I think (the North-East) is going to be a very competitive region,” Olsen said. “Most of the teams in our region have been playoff teams in the recent past. I think the whole class is going to be great competition. Football is football, you’ve got to show up on Friday night and play well.”