COVER: Bottom line Jeff Kessinger Sports

A caveat before I get started: Your friendly neighborhood sports editor has no clout with the Missouri High School Activities Association. They never ask my opinion.

That said, I have some interesting thoughts (my wife would probably debate me on this, but I digress). The high-school athletes I cover also have interesting thoughts. Take Ozark High School seniors Parker Hanks and Quinn Nelson, for example.

I bumped into them after Spokane’s thrilling overtime victory against Skyline in the Class 2 District 10 championship game (see story above) and we got to chatting about the class 5 District 11 Tournament, which Ozark hosts through March 1. It’s a pretty loaded field. Ozark (21-5) is the top seed, with Glendale (18-7) second. Both teams are — inexplicably — unranked in Class 5, though both teams have been in the top 10 at some point this season.

Glendale is led by Monty Johal and Jordan Walton. Johal is the all-time leading scorer in Springfield Public Schools history and both athletes are being recruited by NCAA Division I schools. There is the potential here for District 11 to be decided by an epic title game.

That prospect got Nelson shaking his head. He pointed out that either he and his Tigers, or Johal and his Falcons will end their senior season by not even making it out of the district tournament. It’s a shame, no matter who it happens to.

Could there be a better way to draw up the postseason tournament? We got to thinking and decided maybe there is. Maybe we don’t have to divide each class into 16 districts. What if we treated these February tournaments more like March Madness, the NCAA’s 68-team championship tournament?

Let’s use Class 5 as a case study here. There are 79 teams in the state’s largest classification, broken into 15 five-team districts and one four-team field. Some of those districts are much tougher than others. District 11, for example, has four teams with winning records, with Kickapoo (14-12) and Parkview (14-10) following Ozark and Glendale. 

Then there’s District 14, led by top seed North Kansas City (22-3), ranked No. 6 in the state. Unranked Rockhurst (19-5) is seeded second, with 10th-ranked Park Hill South (18-6) seeded third.

Now let’s contrast that with District 10, which features just one team — top seed Waynesville (16-9) — with a winning record. In District 3, Chaminade (21-2), ranked seventh in the state, is a very worthy top seed. The Red Devils, however, won’t play a single team with a winning record in that tournament.

Let’s accept right now there is no way to make the state tournament fair, or create a perfect system. But maybe we could make this a little better. Instead of 16 district tournaments, what if we went with eight regional tournaments of nine or 10 teams? Play them over two weeks, with either the top seeds hosting the first few rounds and the final four hosted at one central site, or having the quarterfinals and beyond played at one site. 

How would that look in practicality? Nixa and Ozark would be in the same regional and the field would be fantastic: Glendale, Republic, Joplin, Kickapoo, Parkview, Carthage, Branson and Neosho. The top four seeds — Glendale, Nixa, Ozark and Republic — would get first-round byes. Carthage would host Branson and Parkview would host Neosho in play-in games.

Whoever survives that regional would face the winner of a regional tournament that includes, among others, state-ranked Columbia Rock Bridge, Waynesville and Willard. The winner would advance to the final four.

I think it could work. I think it would be fun. So if you know anyone with real pull in MSHSAA — i.e., not a sports editor — would you pass that along please?

And if you’d like to see the District 11 title game, it’s set for 8 p.m. March 1. The girls’ championship game tips off at 6. The teams playing in those games were still to be determined as of press time.

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