HIBBING — In a move that promises to evenly balance school enrollment in high school cross country, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) approved adding an additional class for the sport on Monday.

The new class will begin during the 2021-22 school year.

The sport has been in the two-class system for a number of years before the MSHSL voted to make it a three-class high school sport. The 64 largest schools in the state by enrollment will compete in Class AAA with the 96 next largest schools competing in Class AA. This is the class that Hibbing will run in.

In Class A, the remaining schools in the state – estimated at 160 schools – will compete.

In the new sections, the first and second place teams from each section will still advance to state. However, a change is the first six individual finishers from each section meet who are not a team member of the first and second place teams will now qualify from state, which is down from 10 in previous years.

Besides balancing out the schools by enrollment, other reasons cited for the change include:

*It gives a good geographical representation at the MSHSL Meet;

*Each class has an accurate number of schools to make all three classes extremely competitive and will produce quality MSHSL State Meets;

*Class A will have an estimated 160 teams which is higher than the other classes. This class needs to have more teams in order to balance the competition with the number of incomplete teams at the small school level. In the past two years, Class A section meets for girls had 42 and 50 incomplete teams. In 2018, Class A section meets for boys produced 29 incomplete teams.

Hibbing High School cross country coach James Plese said he is in favor of the new class. He said he thinks a major reason why the class was added was because it is rather inexpensive to run an extra class at the state meet as compared to track and field, which is comprised of many individual events.

“This is a big one for us, not only for the fall season, but it really gives a little excitement for the spring to possibly add a third class (in track and field) as well,” Plese said. “We (Hibbing) are still not going to be a huge school in the middle class and we are not necessarily going to be a powerhouse right away but it’s nice. I enjoyed working with some of my colleagues from the southern part of the section and with Duluth East, especially with coach (Dave) Wicker.

“But we are an enrollment of 569 kids (grades 9-12) and to compete for a state title we were going up against Wayzata and Stillwater and the like who have over 3,000 kids. I don’t think any other sport necessarily looks at that as fair. Just because we all run a 5K doesn’t mean we all have that same structure as other sports. I think that is going to benefit our kids.”

Plese said rivals such as Grand Rapids, Cloquet, Princeton and Chisago Lakes all will remain in Class AA. He said the extra class may give athletes from smaller schools a little more drive knowing their chances to be more successful in the sport are good.

“I am not saying this is a perfect solution because nothing is ever perfect, but it really does benefit the kids,” Plese explained. “We also may have more of a regional flair because we go all fall running local meets but we go to Milaca and we go to Swain and those are pretty huge cross country meets. But there are times where we will go to our section meet in Princeton and we won’t have seen half of the schools in our own section because they are southern schools.

“Now with this realignment I think we will pick up local schools and we maybe will get more rivalries going again, and it will feel natural because you are running against people you see. It’s not like going down south and seeing Elk River, Andover and Forest Lake for the first time all year and watching the bigger schools kind of churn us up a little bit.

“It also will probably give a little better representation for the outstate and the northern schools to send more kids down to the showcase down south.”

Plese said the new class is going to benefit the younger Hibbing runners, including Zach Rusich of the boys team and Reese Aune of the girls team, two young runners who will be with the Bluejackets when the new class becomes a reality.

“This is going to benefit our runners from the young generation and maybe it gets more kids out,” Plese said. “I think that is truly what is should all be about which is growing our sport. Cross country is a heck of a sport which teaches you different training and a different mental edge when you are out there on your own trying to run a 5K and compete.”

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