North, South, Shanley weigh options for new football realignment

Schools like Fargo South, Shanley and North have until Sept. 18 to decide if they want to compete in the highest division of football or in the second tier of football, according to North Dakota State High School Activities Association guidelines that would go into effect for the 2021 season. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — High school officials from Fargo North, South and Shanley have until Sept. 18 to decide if they want their football programs to remain in the top division or in the division below it as proposed by the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

This past week, the NDHSAA approved guidelines that will go into effect for the fall of 2021 and last for four years. The guidelines have North, South and Shanley classified in the Class 1A 11-man division — not in the biggest division that will be called Class 2A.

North, South and Shanley can opt to move up to Class 2A or remain in Class A as proposed by the new guidelines. The other two classes will be called Class B 11-man and Class B 9-man.

“The last three weeks have been put on pause,” North athletic director Travis Christensen said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic that has stopped all spring high school sports in North Dakota. “But the next logical step is to see what everyone else is thinking and go from there.

“Say if it is seven schools who are weighing options, if six opt to go in one direction, I don’t know if I want to be the one going in the other direction.”


Under the new guidelines, any Class 1A school can opt to move up to Class 2A. Dickinson and Grand Forks Central are the only Class 2A schools that can opt to move down to Class 1A. Whatever schools decide, the top two classes will be comprised of schools that have been typically classified as Class A in other sports.

Justin Fletschock, NDHSAA assistant director, said the football committee compiled and compared results from the past 10 years of football. He said it found that when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs, the least amount of parity was at the old Class 3A level.

Fletschock also said the new realignment reduces the impact past plans had on smaller schools who were forced to compete at the old Class 2A level. Some schools were unwilling to compete at the 2A level against bigger schools like Shanley, Bismarck St. Mary’s and Devils Lake. To avoid competing at that level, some schools would split up their co-ops to play in a smaller division.

“As a result, some of the small schools were left with no options for their students to play football,” Fletschock said. “This plan hopes to eliminate those issues.”

Fletschock said cross-divisional scheduling between the new 2A and 1A classes will reduce travel for all teams.

“Overall, I like the idea because it provides flexible scheduling and could save in travel costs,” Christensen said. “The last two years, we have had a home-and-home with Williston. Maybe it’s a case where they schedule Watford City instead and we schedule someone like Devils Lake. There are examples like this all across the state.”

South athletic director Michael Beaton said it is a matter of figuring out what is the best fit for his football program.

“If we decide to opt up or stay, we would have opponents to schedule either way,” Beaton said. “It could help schools look at scheduling a little bit differently. We are in a similar situation. That’s part of the conversation that we need to have.”


Last year, Shanley opted to move up from the old Class 2A to the top class of 3A. The Deacons will play at the top level again this fall, but have not made a commitment yet for the 2021 season.

“We are no different than the other schools in that we have to take a look at this,” said Shanley athletic director Michal Breker. “There are still a lot of unknowns.”

Fletschock said there will be no required number of teams that have to play in 2A or 1A.

“This new realignment gets away from the hard number that created issues in the past due to pulling a team up to satisfy that number,” Fletschock said.

Proposed football classes for 2021 season

(Male enrollment in parentheses)

Class 2A

Minot (968), West Fargo Sheyenne (721), Williston (656), West Fargo (638), Century (620), Legacy (618), Bismarck (599), Fargo Davies (593), Dickinson (554), Grand Forks Central (544), Mandan (526).

Class 1A


Fargo North (513), Grand Forks Red River (447), Fargo South (421), Jamestown (345), Watford City (285), Devils Lake (228), Fargo Shanley (204), Valley City (194), Wahpeton (187), St. Mary’s (174), Turtle Mountain (154).

Class B 11-man

Central Cass (141), Kindred (117), Des Lacs-Burlington (109), New Town (105), Beulah (105), Stanley (101), Lisbon (95), Hillsboro-Central Valley (95), Heart River (94), Northern Cass (92), Grafton (90), Fargo Oak Grove (90), Hazen (90), Killdeer (88), Park River-Fordville-Lankin (87), Ellendale-Edgeley-Kulm (87), Shiloh Christian (86), Carrington (85), Southern McLean (81), Rugby (81), Thompson (78), Ray-Powers Lake (77), Oakes (76), Bottineau (75), New Salem-Almont-Glen Ullin (74), Dickinson Trinity (74), Nedrose (74), Langdon (73), Milnor-North Sargent (72), Wells County (72), Minot Ryan (72), South Prairie (69), Enderlin-Maple Valley (68), Surrey (68), Hatton-Northwood (67), Bowman County (67), Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg (65).

Class B 9-man

Velva (61), Richardton-Taylor-Hebron (61), Tioga (60), Tri-State (60), Central McLean (60), Wyndmere-Lidgerwood (59), Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn (59), Nelson County (58), Kenmare-Bowbells-Burke Central (57), Larimore (56), Cavalier (56), Hettinger-Scranton (55), Garrison (53), Linton-HMB (52), Four Winds (52), Berthold-North Shore-Plaza (51), South Border (50), Central Dakota (49), Divide County (47), LaMoure-Litchville-Marion (46), Dunseith (46), New Rockford-Sheyenne (46), Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood (45), Towner-Granville-Upham (44), Grant County-Flasher (43), Beach (40), Parshall-White Shield (40), Hankinson (40), North Star (38), Kidder County (36), North Border (35), Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter (35), Trenton (32), Hope-Page-Finley-Sharon (32), Richland (32), Benson County (28), St. John (28), Max (26), Strasburg-Zeeland (21).

West Fargo's Carson Hegerle fends off Fargo North's Peyton Fisher at Essentia Health Packers Stadium on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. Fargo North has until Sept. 18 to decide if they want to compete in the highest division of football or in the second tier of football. David Samson / The Forum

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