Sports rankings are, in most cases, strictly arbitrary, pure guesses by so-called experts.
At the same time, but in a different context, rankings based on statistical comparisons are often just as meaningless.
For example, last week’s story about Lawrence ranking last among 34 cities in the Plains region in terms of per capita gross domestic product could have been skewed because the category is so broad.
Nevertheless, you can’t dispute the rankings that came out Monday from the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
First, a little background. Despite the reluctance of many people who believed Lawrence would lose its singular identity by having two high schools — as well as the Lions’ powerhouse football team — the division occurred in 1997 with the construction of the new high school near Sixth and Wakarusa streets.
The split was inevitable because Lawrence High had, at the time, about 500 more students than any other secondary school in Kansas, and the place was bursting at the seams.
In that first year, the new Free State High had only 923 students, in large part because LHS seniors who lived in the Free State area were allowed to remain at the older school.
Free State’s enrollment jumped by nearly 250 students the next year, then reached a peak in 2005, when there were 1,240 students in the sophomore, junior and seniors classes.
It has been downhill ever since.
Free State’s enrollment total for KSHSAA purposes is 1,066, making it the smallest school in the state’s largest class. At the same time, it is Free State’s lowest enrollment since the year the school opened.
“That’s certainly not shocking news,” Free State athletic director Mike Hill told me. “We felt based on projections that might be the case.”
Clearly, if Free State’s enrollment continues to dwindle, the Firebirds would be in danger of dropping into Class 5A, although that possibility doesn’t appear imminent because Free State currently has 89 more students than Hutchinson, the largest 5A school.
Meanwhile, Lawrence High’s enrollment is 1,247, making it the 17th largest in Kansas. But that’s a drop from the school’s post-expansion peak of 1,349 in 2006.
Lawrence High, in case you’re wondering, always has had more students than Free State. The closest the two have come to parity was in 2005, when LHS had just 48 more students.
This year’s gap of 181 students, however, is the largest since 2001, when a 203-student chasm existed.
What do these enrollment figures mean for athletics? Probably not that much. For instance, how do you figure Free State based on the last school year? The Firebirds played in the state high school football championship game, yet the boys basketball team won only one game. And the baseball team won the Sunflower League title.
“I believe we’ll always be one of the smallest 6A schools,” Hill said, “but just because we’re small doesn’t mean we can’t be successful.”
Still, the declining enrollments of both city high schools, admittedly affected somewhat by the additions of Veritas Christian and Seabury Academy, seem to add more credibility to those disappointing GDP numbers.