TOPEKA — A local principal is working to reshape classifications in Kansas high school athletics.

Girard Middle School Principal Randy Heatherly and Paola High School Athletic Director Jeff Hines presented supportive evidence for a modifier in the athletic classification system to the executive board of the Kansas State High School Activities Association January 11.

The proposed change would create a modifier for private high schools in the state, which would affect their classification.

Heatherly said adding a modifier is simply about leveling the playing field.

“I have very good professional friends at St. Mary’s Colgan, they have great coaches over there doing amazing things,” Heatherly said. “I don’t want to take away from their success — they earned it — but private schools in the state of Kansas have always had an advantage over public schools in their class.”

Heatherly said the advantage comes from not having to accept every student — which public schools are mandated to do by state law — and being able to use funds for athletic staff and facilities that public schools must dedicate to programs such as special-needs classes.

According to a 2007 report from the KSHSAA Public and Private School Study Committee, “Data demonstrates that private schools win a disproportionate percentage of state titles; private schools earn disproportionate percentage of post-season final eight, final four, and championship game opportunities when compared to public schools.”

Heatherly said his involvement with the classification issue started during his time on the KSHSAA Executive Board from 2009 to 2013.

“Back then we looked at classification and one problem was the private school issue,” Heatherly said. “Executive Director Gary Musselman got legal advice on the issue, and said placing a modifier or multiplier may result in a lawsuit against KSHSAA.”

Heatherly said he didn’t pursue the issue further until he heard Hines had gone to the Kansas state legislature in an effort to change statute 72-130, which keeps KSHSAA from creating a private school modifier.

“When Jeff [Hines] went to the legislature last February they asked where KSHSAA was on this since he was one man from one school,” Heatherly said. “KSHSAA was working on a redesign from their classification committee, so they took a neutral stance on the issue, and the statute stayed the same.”

However, Heatherly said the classification committee’s redesign plans do nothing to address the private school issue, so he and Hines began doing their own work.

The two educators started by sending a survey — through Google — to the principal and athletic director at all 355 KSHSAA-member schools. Heatherly said they received feedback from 284 of the schools — around 80 percent — and of the 284 schools, 82 percent were in favor of a multiplier or modifier for private school classification.

Heatherly and Hines hoped their findings would earn them explicit support  from KSHSAA for changing the state statute; however, Heatherly said KSHSAA released a statement stating it had no objection to the statute being changed.

If the state legislature changes the statute, Heatherly hopes KSHSAA will add a private school modifier to their classification plan. As part of the survey sent to member schools, Heatherly and Hines asked what type of modifier schools would like to see.

The leading choice was a success-based modifier, similar to the one used in Oklahoma. Another option was a multiplier, a system used in Missouri. The Missouri system simply multiplies private school enrollment numbers by a decided number, which moves them up in classification. However, this would apply to all schools.

Heatherly said he is in support of the success-based system, because he said this project isn’t about dragging down private schools, it is about giving everyone a fair chance.

“In the Oklahoma system, we define a level of domination and after a private school shows its success and domination in a sport, that sport is bumped up to a higher classification,” Heatherly said. “And if they don’t perform well in the higher class, they will be moved back down.”

Moving forward, Heatherly and Hines are working on getting a bill sponsored to change statute 72-130. With a testimony from Musselman, they hope to get the statute changed, and present a proposal for a modifier to the KSHSAA Board of Directors in April. The board will vote on the issue in June, and the modifier would take effect in the 2018-19 school year.

“Again, We’ve got a great relationship with Colgan and I respect the heck out of those guys,” Heatherly said. “Some people wanted to use recruiting as an excuse, but we left it out because Colgan doesn’t recruit, the success of their athletic programs and their academic excellence brings people to their programs.”

He added that this is not a one-school issue.

“It’s not just about one school either,” Heatherly said. “It’s just a problem with the classification system that needs to be resolved to make high school athletics better for everyone in Kansas.”

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.