Note: Part 2 of a series on the Kansas State High School Activities Association and its outgoing executive director, Gary Musselman.
Classification has always been a burning issue for Kansas high schools.
Historically, the Kansas State High School Activities Association, the governing body for high school athletics and activities, has taken rare action to change the number of classes in which schools compete in a wide cross-section of sports and activities.
So when Gary Musselman, who has served KSHSAA as its executive director for the past 22 years and overall for 30 years, says that the recent adoption of classifications changes, and number of schools in each class is the single biggest change in more than 50 years, it does grab your attention.
Musselman, a career educator who was born and raised in tiny Ness City, will be stepping down at the end of June, retiring from a job that he says has never really felt like a job.
“The biggest thing I saw with the classification changes was that the committee that was organized to study the possibilities brought together rural, urban, 6A to 1A, east to west, north to south,” Musselman said in a recent telephone interview with The Telegram. “They really looked at it from the standpoint of what is in the best interest of all high schools.”
Musselman said that adding classifications throughout the decades (two in 1925; three in 1941; four in 1952; five in 1969; six in 1979; seven in 2011 and eight in 2014) finally reached its overload point, causing coaches, educators and others who have been involved with high school athletics and activities for most of their careers to re-evaluate the entire classification system.
The 2011 and 2014 additions caused a split in Class 1A (I and II) for major team sports of basketball and volleyball, and the same occurred in 2014 with Class 4A.
“I think most people just finally thought there were too many classes,” Musselman said. “I guess I wasn’t really surprised that it passed because quite simply it was time to try something different.”
Another sticky issue that has faced KSHSAA through the years has been the public-private school competition dispute.
While private schools comprise a small percentage of KSHSAA-membership, they have won a relatively larger number of state championships in a wide variety of sports.
“We didn’t duck the issue, but it seems that area is a bit more complicated, and I think it will always be an issue to be looked at,” Musselman said. “The entire evaluation led us into the other classification discussions. What is right? What is fair? Sometimes, the world isn’t equal, or fair.”
Musselman has been a voice for participation in both athletics and activities, seeing that aspect as a benefit to young men and women as they move forward in their lives.
“We want to get kids out of their normal life cycles if they’re not participating,” Musselman said. “There are measurably better academics when kids are participating.”
In 2011, KSHSAA utilized a study conducted by the University of Kansas and Baker University that found 2,100 high school students dropped out in a single calendar school year.
“If there are programs that keep kids in schools, be it athletics or activities, then we feel like it will advance them to a better life experience,” Musselman said. “It could be college, a trade school, but we do know if you get a high school diploma, you’re giving yourself a chance for a better life.”
Some of the sports that KSHSAA oversees has little dispute, and while tennis and golf participation comes more from affluent families, there are still minor issues that could be resolved. Many coaches, and most participants, wish to have a two-day, rather than a one-day, state golf tournament.
“There’s not a lot of negativity, but certainly we want to continue to look at those issues,” Musselman said.
Musselman said there had been talks about the possibility of combining boys and girls swimming seasons as a way of cutting costs, and expected that to be a topic over the next couple of years.
Dual sport participation was another among many that percolated in the Musselman interview.
“Should we be the ones to tell kids whether or not they can only play one sport, or do one activity at a time?” Musselman asked. “Dual sports can be positives, and where it does occur, kids have to indicate a priority sport if there are conflicts in the postseason. The big thing is to make a decision that is the most courteous to your teammates and to the school.”
Musselman said it should never be overstated what the important role high school athletics and activities play, especially in rural communities across the state.
“There are a lot of grass roots involvement at our schools,” Musselman said. “In many ways, the sports competitions and activities are at the center of the social fabric of smaller towns. People and communities are passionate, and I think that’s good for the kids.”
And yet at the end of the day, Musselman reaffirmed that the first priority for KSHSAA is the education of the young men and women of Kansas.
“There’s nothing more important than the classroom education, but we also believe that athletics and activities provide a level of importance of educational experience, too,” Musselman said. “How do you handle success and defeat? Sometimes breaks just don’t go your way and they become lifetime learning opportunities.”
Part 3: A look at the legacy of KSHSAA leadership and its impact on high school students.