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Miners the new ‘goose’: Negaunee basketball, volleyball teams split into different divisions for next season

Negaunee’s Will Luke, right, works the ball up court while defended by Gwinn’s Mastin Love during their high school boys basketball game played Dec. 13 at the Modeltowners gym. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

On the Net:

• For a look at the news release used for this story, visit the MHSAA’s press release page at www.mhsaa.com/News/PressReleases.

• For individual sports

divisional listings, visit www.mhsaa.com/sports, click on the sport, then its 2020 or 20-21 division list

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MARQUETTE — Since the advent of divisions a few years ago for Michigan high school basketball and volleyball, there seems to be a small handful of schools that end up like the “goose” in a game of duck-duck-goose.

Negaunee's Alex Munson, center, attempts a layup against Gladstone's Michael Hagebusch, left, and Rane Castor in their Mid-Peninsula Conference boys basketball game played Jan. 23 at the Braves' gym. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Justin St. Ours)

This year, locally, it’s going to be Negaunee. The Miners will be joined by Ironwood as Upper Peninsula schools that won’t play in the same division for volleyball in the fall and boys basketball and girls basketball in the winter.

It seems hard to fathom, as each sport is played by nearly every high school in the state and each has four divisions for the MHSAA postseason.

This past season, Munising and L’Anse each played Division 3 in boys basketball and Division 4 for the girls, likely an unintended consequence of the switchover from classes to divisions for deciding where everyone plays. There are minor differences in the cutoff of each division for each sport, and Negaunee and Ironwood are caught right on the edge for 2020-21.

The Miners will play in Division 2 — think of it as Class B in the old days — in boys basketball but Division 3 for girls basketball and volleyball.

For the Red Devils at the far western edge of the U.P., just drop a division for each sport — Division 3 boys basketball and Division 4 girls basketball and volleyball.

Iron Mountain's Marcus Johnson, bottom, and Negaunee's Jakson Sager fight for control of a loose ball in the fourth quarter of their game played Jan. 28 in Negaunee. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

This all comes about because unlike classes, divisions look at the actual schools playing a particular sport before dividing the entire list into four as-equal-as-possible divisions.

This year, there will be 727 schools playing boys basketball but only 718 playing girls basketball and 716 in volleyball.

In the U.P., Paradise — also known as Whitefish Township Schools — actually bucks this trend, being listed as fielding a girls basketball team but no boys team this coming winter.

That may be because there’s a dearth of boys in this tiny school — MHSAA official enrollment lists it at 20 students — or that their boys program will play in a cooperative with another nearby school, possibly Newberry, Brimley or even the Ojibwe Charter School that is in Brimley.

Another school, Republic-Michigamme, has both basketball teams but not volleyball. About a decade ago, the Hawks didn’t field a girls basketball team for about five years, instead co-oping with Ishpeming.

With a slightly different list of schools playing each sport, it also makes the cutoffs slightly different.

In Negaunee’s case, the low end of Division 2 for boys basketball is 406 students, exactly the Miners’ number.

While the number is based on each district’s second semester count on Feb. 12, it may not match the number used for school aid from the state of Michigan, as the MHSAA explains that it doesn’t count students ineligible for athletics who have turned 19 years old by Sept. 1, nor alternative education students if none are allowed athletic eligibility by a district.

Negaunee’s 406 number, however, sneaks it into Division 3 in girls basketball, as the high-end number in D-3 is 409 students. The same is true in volleyball, where the largest Division 3 school is also at 409.

Ironwood is at 191, making the Red Devils the smallest Division 3 school in boys basketball, but dropping them into D-4 for the girls sports as the cutoffs are at 195.

Football is undergoing a major shift in divisions this fall, with divisions predetermined instead of being decided only when the playoff field is set.

Marquette remains in 11-player Division 3 as it has for several years, with Negaunee and the Westwood-R-M cooperative in Division 6.

Division 7 will include the L’Anse-Baraga co-op and Manistique, while Division 8 has Gwinn and Ishpeming.

Munising has moved to eight-player football and will join Superior Central and Newberry in that sport’s Division 1.

With the Mustangs’ move, the MHSAA is now listing 16 Upper Peninsula schools playing eight-player with just 21 remaining in the 11-player game.

Another change in divisions was noted by the MHSAA in a news release where it singled out state champions changing divisions.

It includes Westwood in girls tennis, currently the four-time defending U.P. champion in Division 2. As the largest enrollment D-2 school in that U.P. sport, Westwood was moved to D-1 with the addition of Bark River-Harris fielding a team.

The Broncos, though having moved into D-3 in basketball and volleyball, are still firmly a D-2 team in girls tennis. And with six D-1 schools and previously seven in D-2, one D-2 school had to make the move up to even the number of teams in each division.

In hockey, despite being the U.P.’s largest school and firmly in Class A when that was still in use, Marquette had to voluntarily move up from Division 3 to Division 2 in the MHSAA’s three-division setup.

The cutoff seems odd compared to other sports, with schools needing 2,681 students — more than all but maybe a half-dozen schools in the state — to make it into Division 1.

A closer look at the list of schools, however, shows nearly every Division 1 “school” is actually a cooperative, with the enrollment used the sum of all the schools’ enrollments in the program.

Just to get in Division 2 in hockey, 1,596 students are needed, nearly twice Marquette’s MHSAA enrollment of 896.

So for several years, the district has played up a division as is allowed.

In the U.P., the other Division 2-playing schools all have opted up and have significantly more students in their co-op programs than Marquette — Negaunee is listed at 1,255, Escanaba at 1,118 and Kingsford at 1,493.

Wrestling looks to have the same combatants in the same divisions, at least locally, for next school year — Marquette in Division 2, Negaunee in Division 3 and Westwood, Gwinn, Ishpeming, Munising, Newberry and Manistique in Division 4.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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