The Kansas State High School Activities Association released its football classifications for the next two school years Tuesday morning. And as expected, Uniontown will switch to the eight-man version of the sport next season.
"There's been other times through the years where we were close," Uniontown Athletic Director Jim Mason, a former Eagle head coach and currently an assistant for Chad Stroud, said. "Our projected numbers down the road, if the numbers stay this way, will be smaller than they are now. We factored that in along with the fact that our league is predominantly eight-man."
The KSHSAA uses enrollments in grades 9-11 to determine football classifications. If a school has 101 or more students, it must play 11-man football. Schools with enrollments of 100 or less can choose either form of the game.
Uniontown's number was 99, making it the largest school playing eight-man along with Kiowa County, which also had 99. Pleasanton, another area school, will stay in eight-man with its enrollment of 88.
Uniontown, which reported 126 students two years ago, has always played 11-man football. But as with many other rural schools throughout the state, declining numbers forced the school to make a long-term decision.
Scheduling will be easier as seven of the Three Rivers League's 10 schools play eight-man football. Not only are there more league games, the schools are closer and relatively the same size. Uniontown has had to fill in the gaps in an 11-man schedule with long trips to play larger schools such as Eureka and Burlington.
An eight-man district -- which will also have at least five teams -- will likely include St. Paul, Pleasanton and rival Marmaton Valley. In a Class 3A district, the Eagles' shortest trip the last two seasons has been to Central Heights.
Uniontown had discussions with other schools that have made the transition over the past few years. Mason said that almost all of them looked at the change positively.
"We asked if any of them would do it again," Mason said. "None of the schools had a negative comment."
Uniontown will likely stay an eight-man school for several years, even should the enrollment stay in the 90s as it is now. Mason noted that the school does not want to be changing back and forth.
"If this had just been for two years, we wouldn't have considered it," Mason said. "But right now, we've got a projected number in one (two-year) cycle of around 87. It will be quite a while before we consider going back (to 11-man).
"It made sense to try to do this and see how it goes."
This also means that even though Jayhawk-Linn returns to TRL football next season, the league will still have just three schools playing 11-man. Northeast will drop down from Class 3A to 2-1A with its enrollment of 116 -- 21 fewer than two seasons ago, when the current football classes were set. Jayhawk-Linn comes in at 114 (down 5) and Oswego has 107 (no change).
The other TRL eight-man schools will be Marmaton Valley (79), St. Paul (68), Chetopa (51), Crest (47) and Altoona-Midway (38).
Eight-Man Football has two divisions, so all of the TRL's eight-man schools won't be in the same district. Uniontown, Marmaton Valley, Pleasanton and St. Paul will be in Division I. Midway, Crest and Chetopa will be in Division II. The latter two were in Division I for the current cycle.
Division I schools range from 59 students (Flinthills) to 99. Division II schools range from 25 (Weskan) to 58 (Hanover, Blue Valley-Randolph and Stockton).
Other southeast Kansas eight-man teams are Howard-West Elk, Madison/Hamilton, Sedan and Yates Center in Division I and Southern Coffey County and Longton-Elk Valley in Division II.
As was the case with the current cycle, no schools moved from eight-man back to 11-man. Eleven 2-1A schools moved to eight-man the last time, including Yates Center. Uniontown was one of three to switch this time, the other two being Rawlins County in northeast Kansas and Satanta in southwest Kansas.