According to athletic director Chris Hanson, Kenai Central will be reclassified as a Class 3A school beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
Hanson said the school has been in contact with the Alaska School Activities Association for most of the school year about the possible move. He said Kenai Central received word from ASAA about a month ago that the school could go down to the 3A level.
Although there is variation among sports, ASAA generally recognizes three classes of school sizes — 1A for five to 60 students, 2A for 61 to 150 students, 3A for 151 to 500 students and 4A for 501 students and up.
Hanson said the ASAA reclassification process runs on a three-year cycle. This school year is a re-evaluation year. When Kenai Central checked in at just over 470 students this fall, 3A became a possibility.
“We let ASAA know that if we qualified, that’s what we would like to do,” Hanson said.
The athletic director said next school year is an appeals year in the ASAA process, meaning Kenai Central can disagree with how ASAA determined the number of students. Hanson said Kenai Central has no plans to appeal.
“Our count is locked in for three years,” Hanson said. “It doesn’t matter what your student population is for three years. The only year that matters is the evaluation year.”
Hanson said the Kardinals are not going 3A in the next school year because time is needed to figure out things like conference realignments and how those affect things like automatic state berths.
The athletic director added that Kenai Central has the option of opting up in select sports, as long as both the girls and boys in those sports both opt up.
Hanson said those decisions will be made by the end of this school year, or shortly thereafter.
“It will be a collaborative process between the administration, me and the coaches,” Hanson said.
The effect on sports will vary. Swimming, cross-country skiing, soccer, baseball and girls wrestling are all one classification sports, so there will be no effect.
In football and softball, different classification numbers are used so Kenai should be staying put. In football, Kenai is in medium schools, which is for 450 to 900 students. Softball has just two classifications — small for less than 850 and large for 851 and over.
Then there are the sports featuring big meets, like cross-country running, track and field, and wrestling. Opting down here would affect which region and state titles the Kardinals are chasing, but otherwise wouldn’t have a big impact on scheduling.
Finally, there are head-to-head sports like hockey, volleyball and basketball.
In hockey, Kenai is in the North Star Conference with 4A schools Wasilla, Colony, Palmer and Soldotna and 3A school Homer. With no other hockey schools on the Kenai Peninsula besides Homer and Soldotna, leaving the NSC would lead to a lot more travel.
But in basketball and volleyball, the Kardinals are in the Northern Lights Conference with Kodiak, Soldotna, Palmer, Colony and Wasilla.
The 3A Southcentral Conference features Kenai Peninsula schools Homer, Nikiski and Seward, making a change there a better fit for travel.
“We feel this is a good thing at Kenai, we’re excited about it,” Hanson said about reclassification in general. “It’s good for our travel budget. It eliminates a lot of Kodiak travel, which helps a lot.
“Automatically, we get six games on the peninsula with Seward, Nikiski and Homer, which is a good thing for us.”
Hanson said Kenai Central has great kids, and that has allowed the school to remain competitive despite the small school size. But he added that the reclassification should give the Kardinals a chance at state titles when various programs hit their peak.
“The way I’ve got it figured, we’ve been the smallest 4A school in the state for a while,” Hanson said. “This will be a good deal for our sports programs.”