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Updated: Sifting through Montana high school enrollments and reclassification

UPDATED: Libby voted this week to move from Class A to B.

The recent news that Southwestern A school Anaconda is, like its enrollment, dropping to Class B for athletics has generated a bit of discussion ’round these parts.

What are the enrollment restrictions for classifications in Montana? Who’s close to those limits and who could be on the move next?

Several other schools are on the verge, though not all have decided to pack their bags and move yet. Let’s take a look at the tape:

First, we’ll get a few details out of the way. We’ll start with classification enrollment boundaries, some good numbers to know.

Class AA  =  825 +

Class A  =  825 – 340

Class B  =  339 – 120

Class C  =  119    1

Next, some rules from the MHSA for reclassification:

  1. Any school that exceeds the maximum enrollment level by no more than 10 percent may remain at the lower classification.
  2. Schools may opt up to a higher classification despite enrollment.
  3. When a school moves into a classification, they will remain there for the next two years.
  4. Schools whose enrollment changes significantly in a 2-year peiord (i.e. 25 percent), will be placed into proper class by the MHSA Executive Board.
  5. MHSA recommendations for change are made based on a school’s average enrollment over the past two years.

OK, got it? Here’s how Montana’s four classifications break down using MHSA enrollment data from the most recent term available (Fall 2013-14). Now remember, any MHSA recommendations may also include the spring term, data that has not been released to us yet.

We can see that all 14 AA schools are well above the enrollment cutoff. Class AA is one of the stranger classifications because there is no upper limit for school size. So you can see that our three Missoula schools are seriously dwarfed by the giants from the other side of the state.

But what can you do? Class AA certainly can’t be split any further. Moving on.



Now Class A gives us some pretty clear potential for moving and shaking. We know Anaconda is headed for the door and Glendive (Dawson Country) had been recommended to do the same by the MHSA. Sounds like that won’t be happening anytime soon, though.

Private schools Billings Central and Butte Central are both in the opt-up package though they should be competing at Class B. Butte Central is waaay below the line for A schools, about 200 students short in fact. That little nugget makes the Maroons’ success at the classification all the more impressive.

At the upper end, Belgrade is peeking over the Class A cap. The school is still within that 10-percent boundary, though, and will be waiting a little longer before making any rash decisions that could lead to a hop up to the big leagues. Belgrade has grown by about 50 students in the last five years.

Columbia Falls, once a shoo-in for the next AA school. Has lost more than 100 in that same time span, though.

Libby, which has averaged 338.5 students for the last 2-year period, also drew an MHSA recommendation to move to Class B, a nudge the school has decided recently to accept.

Any and all changes will be made for the 2015-16 school year, so there’s still another year before any moves will take effect.



Class B serves a very wide range of school sizes. The most interesting prospect, especially to the western Montana area, involves Ronan. The Lake County school dropped from Class A to B just three years ago, but enrollment numbers are actually up there since that time.

No other school is too close to the top end of the range.

The other side has quite a few schools near dropping to Class C, though none is on the west end of the state. Plentywood has accepted the MHSA’s recommendation to move to Class C, but Forsyth, Lodge Grass and Lame Deer have all decided to stay in B for now.


Class C (you can ignore those two highlighted numbers; this graphic came from the MHSA website) is full of a wide range of schools enrollment-wise as well and that’s where we usually see the most co-ops formed.

Only Chinook has exceeded the max student body, but the school is petitioning for further inclusion at Class C.

11 Comments on "Updated: Sifting through Montana high school enrollments and reclassification"

  1. Reply

    Thanks for the informative article! I have a question about co-op for Class C football. I thought that a co-op for Class C 8-man had to remain under a combined enrollment of 85. How would a Granite/Drummond (which was reported) co-op be allowed then? The combined enrollment would be 133 (clearly even Class B numbers). Unless they proved that each town would lose like 30 kids in one year, how is this feasible? I hope their enrollments aren’t losing that many kids.

    • Reply

      That’s a good point. But keep in mind that these numbers are for 2013 fall term. It is feasible that Drummond and Pburg could be down significantly by the time they co-op a year later. I’ll be doing some more stories on that new co-op soon that will come with specific and up-to-date numbers, though.

      AJ Mazzolini
  2. Reply

    Makes you wonder why Chinook who had 142 is still Class C they should have to go up to Class B. Class C is becoming more and more overwhelmed!!!

    • Reply

      It doesn’t seem fair that Chinook can continue in Class C. They dominate the class and are competing mostly with schools half their size. They have several class b schools close to them. Namely Harlem, Malta,Rocky Boy, Shelby, Cut Bank, Chouteau. Their travel distance is not a great deal further than their class c schedule.

      Speck Helmbrecht
  3. Reply

    I would think Chinook is staying at C because of the distances that need to be traveled for B games. I live in Oregon and we have started some combining of leagues . We have 6 levels and we combine 5-6 for play, but then separate for district and state competition. It saves a tremendous amount of time and money by not having to travel as far. There was some dissention at first, but we have adapted. More parents and school mates can attend the games making it a more valuable experience for all.

  4. Reply

    Where I would like to see a change is in Class “C” football is when schools coop and play 6 man football. 6 man was designed for small numbers to be able to still have a football program. Last year we went to Westby-Grenora and they fielded well over 20 some kids and there we stood with our 8. They didn’t have to be good, they could throw 6 new players in when ever they wanted to and our kids never got to come out of the game, They just ran us to death. I do realize that they did not know what their numbers would be, because of the oil boom going on, but there has to be a way to balance the scales. We don’t have the option of co-oping with another team as we are between a Class B school and an “A” School, so when we are no longer able to have 6 boys that want to play we will be loosing our program.

    Amy Adler
  5. Reply

    Creating a fourth classification for schools with an enrollment of 40 or less would make the most sense or some major school consolidation needs to take place. Class C could then be 41-140, Class B 141-400, Class A 401-800 and Class AA 800 and up or enrollment numbers that make reasonable sense unlike the current Class A enrollment numbers. Maybe keep the 10% rule in place or get rid of it.

    Furthermore, in basketball get rid of the district tournaments especially for conferences with less than 8 teams. Class A doesn’t need four divisions just 2 and that makes the most sense, especially if Libby and Glendive end up moving down to B.
    Bottom line is the MHSA really needs to make some significant common sense changes in regards to classifications and playoff formatting.

    Eric Stang (@CoachStang)
  6. Reply

    You will see 9 -man football league in 4 Years. Smaller schools will play 6-man- Medium size schools will play 9-man and the larger B schools will play 11-man. There will be no c-b classification in football Just 6-9-11 man football with smaller schools.

  7. Reply

    The most economical and reasonable change would be simply to move the cutoff number down between each classification. This would force some of the old class B schools that are now down in C back up to B and maybe level the playing field for the smallest schools that are barely fielding teams each season.

  8. Reply

    The reforming of Class A divisions needs to take into consideration that many schools are on the cusp of the enrollment numbers. Glendive petitioned to stay up, but its schools have received an enrollment boost from the Bakken activity. On average, Glendive elementary class sizes are around 100 students per grade, well above the cut off for Class A when they hit high school. On the other hand, Lewistown is floating close to the edge, and if Fergus County and the city continue to shrink, then this school will likely go the way of Anaconda and Libby. Additionally, Dillon has extremely low numbers and its projected enrollment keeps it around 340-350 for the next few years. However, any downturn in the local economy would push Dillon down. If Dillon went down, Anaconda is already down, would Butte Central stay up? All close Class A schools would be gone as would all rivalries. Only wanting to competing cross class as a Class A vs. AA Butte High would likely keep them from moving down. The overall point is that the bottom is dropping out of Class A schools with no schools in Class B ready to move up. Back in the early 2000’s Florence, Cut Bank, Wolf Point, and Thompson Falls were all pushing above 300 students. Frenchtown moved up as did Eureka and Bigfork was already up. Now, all of those schools are clearly in Class B, excepting Frenchtown. The only towns with potential to grow into Class A would likely be in Wolf Point controlled its drop out rate, or Huntley Project (Worden) or Shepherd received increased growth from Billings (similar to Frenchtown’s old situation with Missoula) or if Glasgow receives a huge enrollment boost from extended Bakken Oil activity. However, these scenarios do not look likely. In the end, you will have the bottom drop out in the next five years, and you will be left with less than 17-18 schools at most.

    I think the best move is to reform the classes into 5 groups. Wyoming schools play lower level enrollments of 700 students against their large enrollments, like Campbell County (Gillette) with over 2000 students. Idaho has five classifications (0-160, 160-320, 320-640, 640-1280, 1280- up). I think it is possible in Montana with breaking Class C up. The numbers support 0-59, 60-119, 119-300, 300-700, 700 on up. This pushes Belgrade up and potentially Columbia Falls and breaks the other divisions up. Class A cuts down and grabs more schools and more Class B are on the cusp again.

    The only other change that could help is if smaller schools start closing and joining back in with the larger schools. In counties like Philips this is a good option where Dodson, Saco, and Whitewater each have fewer than 20 students, and Malta’s Class B enrollment continues to drop to 161. However, it is also very unlikely smalls school and towns will be willing to give up their schools and lose a local identity and economic mainstay of their small economies.

    Gage Zobell

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