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Jamestown AD proposes plan for 3 divisions

FARGO -- Jamestown High School's athletic director and superintendent last week began gauging support for splitting North Dakota Class A into three conferences.

Blue Jays AD Jim Roaldson said Tuesday that high travel costs and an enrollment imbalance in Class A have Jamestown seeking new alternatives to the current conference structure for the state's largest schools.

"Right now, it's more or less a discussion," Roaldson said. "We want to know if it's time to take a look at doing something different than we are accustomed to, something other than the East and West format. Does it make sense?"

Roaldson said Jamestown is floating the idea of breaking up Class A into three conferences. Class A currently consists of 19 schools in two conferences in most sports.

The Eastern Dakota Conference has Devils Lake, Fargo Davies, Fargo North, Fargo Shanley, Fargo South, Grand Forks Central, Grand Forks Red River, Valley City, Wahpeton and West Fargo.

The Western Dakota Association has Bismarck, Bismarck Century, Dickinson High, Mandan, Jamestown, Minot, Bismarck St. Mary's, Williston and Turtle Mountain-Belcourt.

Roaldson said travel for Jamestown in the WDA is becoming more difficult each year. The Blue Jays moved from the EDC to the WDA in 2006.

Roaldson said the move to the West has forced Jamestown to take a few overnight trips each year.

In basketball, the Blue Jays stay overnight during a swing through Minot and Belcourt, and during a trip through Dickinson and Williston, Roaldson said.

Roaldson said the oil boom in western North Dakota has made it difficult to find hotel rooms for the overnight trips.

"For us to travel to Williston for conference play, when we've got a school like Valley City 35 miles away, doesn't make a lot of sense for us," Roaldson said.

Roaldson said Class A could be split into a six-school conference with schools of lower enrollments, and a pair of seven-school leagues with the remaining schools.

Different conference scenarios have been discussed, Roaldson said.

One formula for a new conference would include Jamestown, Valley City, Devils Lake, Wahpeton, Grand Forks Red River and Grand Forks Central. Roaldson said.

Other idea substitutes Fargo Shanley and Bismarck St. Mary's or Minot for the Grand Forks schools.

Grand Forks Public Schools athletic director Todd Olson said his school district is not interested in moving from the Eastern Dakota Conference.

"We are perfectly happy in the Eastern Dakota Conference," Olson said. "We will be up to 20 schools with the addition of a new West Fargo school. With that number, I don't see why we would want to create three conferences in the state. I don't see any support for something like this in Grand Forks and I don't see any support in Fargo."

Fargo Public Schools activities director Ed Lockwood said Class A with three conferences would create even more scheduling headaches than currently exist.

"We have enough trouble trying to fill some our schedules," Lockwood said. "Not all 20 schools compete in all of the activities. To divide into thirds would create more of a monster."

Lockwood said the idea of a three-conference Class A could spark debate about how to create more parity between the largest schools in the state and those on the low end in Class A.

"It appears to me that we have the middle schools being stretched too much," Lockwood said. "They are too big for Class B, but several schools in Class A are getting quite large. We could have schools with 2,000 kids competing against schools with 326."

Roaldson said Jamestown will bring the idea of a three-conference Class A to the North Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors if there is overwhelming support for the idea.

"If everybody is in support of it and the right things are in place, that would help us out and it would be a big plus for us," Roaldson said. "If the constituents across Class A say that this is something they wouldn't want to look at, it might be something we just drop discussion on."

Hotzler is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.