Manhattan High 11th largest school in Kansas, holds implications for sports

Kris Long, Print Editor-in-Chief

6A Classifications released last Monday make Manhattan the 11th-largest high school in Kansas and the largest in the Centennial League. 

The classifications come after Manhattan and Rural were rejected from the Sunflower League last season, and the Centennial League continues to shrink. Only four of nine schools in the league — MHS, Washburn Rural, Junction City and Topeka High — are classified as 6A. Seaman, Topeka West and Highland Park are all leaving the league in the fall of 2022 as well, leaving only six teams.

Along with the lack of other teams to play that faces Manhattan in the future, participation in sports and activities are declining in league schools regardless of whether or not the school itself is shrinking. This has left MHS without JV or freshman teams to play in football and occasionally in other sports this season. 

“It’s not typical, but for some reason this year seems to be an issue, to a certain degree. Some of the teams in the league don’t have enough players in their football program in order to play at all levels,” Athletic Director Mike Marsh said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with classification, large or small, for whatever whatever reason. Several schools just haven’t been able to have the numbers this year in football.”

Due to the combination of player shortages and schools leaving the Centennial League, athletes should expect some less familiar schools to show up on the roster this year and next. The change will impact predominantly football this year, although other teams like boys soccer have played teams without JV sides. 

“We want our kids to be able to have that opportunity to play games, rather than just practice,” Marsh said. “So we take some extra time in order to reach out to other schools around the state of Kansas, within a reasonable driving distance and that would be willing to play us and they have an opening as well.”

So far, JV football has traveled to Bishop Carroll and Holten, and they have a match scheduled against Wichita Heights on Oct. 18.

The problem is not expected to improve within Centennial League schools, and it is unlikely the decline this season is connected to COVID-19 regulations as participation has decreased from last season during the height of the pandemic. 

“I’m not optimistic at this time,” Marsh said. “I’ve seen a decline in some of the lower level teams, not being able to field some teams, and I’m just not optimistic that that won’t be an issue.”

One hope for the future is that because the Centennial League is shrinking, MHS will be playing more non-Centennial League teams once they have fulfilled their contractual obligation to play in-league teams. That means playing bigger schools with enough players to fill all teams.

“Our schedule next year, because of the lack of numbers now coming in next year with losing three schools in our league, the schools that we will be playing next year at this time all have JV and freshman teams,” Marsh said. “So that gives me a positive [indication] that we’re most likely going to have those teams to be able to play next year.”