Will new school mean fewer titles?

By Beacon Staff

For years Flathead High School has been the largest high school in the state. Even without ninth-graders, grades 10-12 had more students than all but a couple of high schools. Add the 652 ninth-graders and the total enrollment would be almost 2,500, by far the most in Montana.

Next year, Glacier High School will take in a substantial portion of those students, although Flathead’s seniors will remain for their final year. In two years, when both high schools have settled back into the regular 9-12 grade system, Kalispell will have two schools on the smaller end of the Class AA scale instead of one giant powerhouse. This could have potentially dramatic effects on high school athletics here.

Earlier this year Flathead High School broke three state records at the Class AA state wrestling tournament en route its second straight state championship and third in the last four years. The Braves placed 18 wrestlers in the state’s top six, nine in the finals and scored 347 ½ total points. Basically, they dominated.

The performance ranks among the most impressive athletic achievements in Montana’s high school history, certainly among the most impressive in the school’s history. Of course the Braves had fantastic individual talent, but numbers like those only happen with depth—lots of depth. Depth, especially consistent depth, requires a wide base of students to choose from, which Flathead High will no longer have to such a degree after next year. Neither will Glacier. One could note that Missoula’s three AA high schools have managed athletic success with similar enrollment figures to what Flathead and Glacier will have, but they have achieved nothing close to Flathead’s record eight All-Sport Trophies. Flathead now shares the record with Bozeman High, also one of the largest high schools.

For whatever reasons, Flathead High has failed in the last couple of decades to find a place among the upper echelon of high school powerhouses in the two major boys sports, football and basketball. The football team has not won a state championship since 1970. That same year, the basketball team won state, and then has only won twice since then, neither coming in the last 18 years. The chances of seeing another state championship in either of those two sports any time soon in Kalispell could diminish with next year’s two-school format.

Montana towns rally behind their high school sports because there are no professional teams in the state and few college teams to cheer for. Kalispell is even a different case than other large Montana towns such as Missoula and Bozeman, which have large colleges with their own fan bases. Kalispell has Flathead Valley Community College, but that doesn’t exactly produce the same kind of rabid fan following as, say, the Grizzlies’ football team in Missoula. Kalispell loves its high school sports.

Flathead High Athletic Director Mark Dennehy, who will take over at Glacier in the fall, said Flathead High will be fine next year since it’s keeping its seniors. But he said Glacier will have a tough time without seniors. It will be interesting to see what happens in the long run, though, as Kalispell transitions from having one of the largest schools in AA to having two of the smallest.

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