New Math: Division & Multiplication Problems

July 25, 2017

By Jack Roberts
MHSAA Executive Director 

This is the second part in a series on MHSAA tournament classification, past and present, that will be published over the next two weeks. This series originally ran in this spring's edition of MHSAA benchmarks.

High school tournament classifications went viral before there was social media and most of us knew what “viral” meant.

Much as a virus infects computers today or has created epidemics of disease around the world for centuries, high school tournament classification – once introduced – tends to spread uncontrollably. Once started, it tends to keep expanding and rarely contracts.

While we are still some distance from providing every team a trophy as a result of expanding high school tournament classification across the country, there is criticism nevertheless that we are headed in that direction – a philosophy which is supposed to exist only in local youth sports for our youngest children.

Michigan could be blamed for all this. Michigan is generally accepted as the first state to provide different classifications for season-ending tournaments for different sized schools. It started a century ago. Today, every state has various classifications for its tournaments in most if not all sports. And it is a bit ironic that Michigan – creator of the classification chaos – more than most other states has kept the number of tournament classes or divisions under control.

Yes, there is evidence that tournament classifications have expanded over the years in Michigan, especially with the relatively recent introduction of tournaments in football and the late 1990s’ move from classes to divisions in most MHSAA tournaments. But the MHSAA Representative Council has held true to its word when it expanded the playoffs for football from four classes to eight divisions: this is needed because of unique factors of football, factors that exist in no other sport; and all other sports should be capped at a maximum of four classes or divisions.

Kentucky is the preeminent defender of single-class basketball. All of its 276 high schools compete for the single state championship for each gender. In Indiana, there are still open wounds from its move in 1998 from one to four classes for its 400 schools in basketball.

Multi-class tournaments have tended to increase the number of non-public school champions, which some states are trying to lower through enrollment “multipliers,” and also tend to increase the number of repeat champions, which some states are trying to affect with “success factors” which lift smaller schools into classifications for larger schools if they take home too many trophies.

While there is considerable evidence that state tournaments do as much bad as good for educational athletics, state associations persist in providing postseason tournaments because, on balance, the experiences are supposed to be good for student-athletes. And once we reach that conclusion it is just a small leap to believe that if the tournaments are good for a few, they must be better for more – which leads to creating more and more tournament classifications. One becomes two classes, then three, then four and so forth.

While the argument is that more classifications or divisions provides more students with opportunities to compete and win, it is undeniable that the experience changes as the number of tournament classifications expands. It is not possible for state associations to provide the same level of support when tournament classifications expand to multiple venues playing simultaneously. For example, there is less audio and video broadcast potential at each venue, and less media coverage to each venue. Focus is diluted and fans diminished at each championship.

No one can argue reasonably that today's two-day MHSAA Football Finals of eight championship games has the same pizazz as the one-day, four-games event conducted prior to 1990.

In some states the number of divisions has grown so much that it is difficult to see much difference between the many season-ending state championship games and a regular-season event in the same sport.

It is a balancing act. And Michigan has been studying that balance longer than any other state, and charting a steadier course than most.

Addition by Division

The shift to Divisions for MHSAA Tournament play in numerous sports has added up to a greater number of champions for teams and individuals across the state. Following are the sports currently employing a divisional format, and the procedures for determining enrollment and classification. 

In 23 statewide or Lower Peninsula tournaments, schools which sponsor the sport are currently divided into nearly equal divisions. They are:

  • Baseball - 4 Divisions
  • Boys Bowling - 4 Divisions            
  • Girls Bowling - 4 Divisions
  • Girls Competitive Cheer - 4 Divisions
  • LP Boys Cross Country - 4 Divisions
  • LP Girls Cross Country - 4 Divisions
  • LP Boys Golf - 4 Divisions
  • LP Girls Golf - 4 Divisions
  • Ice Hockey - 3 Divisions
  • Boys Lacrosse - 2 Divisions
  • Girls Lacrosse - 2 Divisions
  • Boys Skiing - 2 Divisions
  • Girls Skiing - 2 Divisions
  • LP Boys Soccer - 4 Divisions LP
  • Girls Soccer - 4 Divisions
  • Girls Softball - 4 Divisions
  • LP Boys Swimming & Diving - 3 Divisions
  • LP Girls Swimming & Diving - 3 Divisions
  • LP Boys Tennis - 4 Divisions
  • LP Girls Tennis - 4 Divisions
  • LP Boys Track & Field - 4 Divisions
  • LP Girls Track & Field - 4 Divisions
  • Wrestling - 4 Divisions

Lists of schools for each division of these 23 tournaments are posted on approximately April 1. Listings of schools in Upper Peninsula tournaments for their sports are also posted on The lists are based on school memberships and sports sponsorships in effect or anticipated for the following school year, as known to the MHSAA office as of a date in early March.

In football, the 256 schools which qualify for MHSAA 11-player playoffs are placed in eight equal divisions annually on Selection Sunday. Beginning in 2017, the 8-player divisions will be determined in a like manner on Selection Sunday as well, with 32 qualifying schools placed in two divisions.

Schools have the option to play in any higher division in one or more sports for a minimum of two years.

The deadlines for "opt-ups" are as follows:

  • Applications for fall sports must be submitted by April 15
  • Applications for winter sports must be submitted by Aug. 15
  • Applications for spring sports must be submitted by Oct. 15

Subsequent to the date of these postings for these tournaments, no school will have its division raised or lowered by schools opening or closing, schools adding or dropping sports, schools exercising the option to play in a higher division, or approval or dissolution of cooperative programs.

When the same sport is conducted for boys and girls in the same season (e.g., track & field and cross country), the gender that has the most sponsoring schools controls the division breaks for both genders.

Schools Come Together to Help Coleman Trio Complete Dream Weekend

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

June 8, 2023

After teaming up to win a softball District title and an all-state track medal over a two-day stretch, Coleman juniors Madison Miller, Nevaeh Chaffee and Ava Gross had earned some time to relax.

Bay & Thumb“I was definitely relieved,” Chaffee said. “It felt good to be leaving the track meet with a medal, regardless of what place it was. But I definitely came home and took a fat nap.”

The trio was instrumental in leading the Comets to a Division 4 District softball title Friday, as they knocked off Farwell and Beal City.

A day later, they joined senior teammate Amber Nehrig to take fifth in the 400-meter relay at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Track & Field Finals in Hudsonville. 

‘It was fun just to be able to do both,” Gross said. “We worked so hard to play in both.”

All that hard work was almost for naught, and not because of anything any of the athletes had done. It took a lot of work behind the scenes from participating athletic departments and school districts to move the District softball tournament. And that wasn’t confirmed until eight days before it was played.

The tournament was originally scheduled for Saturday, and Coleman softball coach Chad Kopf had alerted his athletic director early that he would like it to be moved to avoid a conflict with the track Finals.

However, host Beal City had to work through multiple issues to make it work. Friday was the final day of exam prep for Beal City students, so administrators did not want to have them miss any of the school day. It was also field day for the elementary school, which was going to make parking at the school even more chaotic. On top of that, Beal City softball coach Jason Johnston is the elementary principal, meaning he would have to be present at the field day.

Athletic directors and superintendents were all involved to make it work, and eventually, a compromise was found. Coleman had offered to bus in all its fans to cut down on parking, and to swap the order of games, so Beal City and Marion – which also had a Finals-bound track athlete – could play the later game. 

It all added up to Miller, Chaffee and Gross – Coleman’s 1, 2 and 3 hitters, as well as its pitcher, shortstop and centerfielder – not having to choose between major events.

From left, Chaffee, Gross, Amber Nehrig and Miller take a relay photo together Saturday at the LP Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville’s Baldwin Middle School. “It makes you feel good,” Kopf said. “Coming off of COVID a couple years ago, you’re still in that mindset of, ‘Is everything that’s done right for the kids?’ (The collaborative effort to move the District) made it feel like we’re in it for the right reasons. Knowing that they made these exceptions, almost solely for us, that’s a lot of selflessness on the part of Beal City. It was great sportsmanship.”

The effort that went into moving the District wasn’t lost on the athletes, either.

“I was happy to know that people were actually trying to get us to do both, because obviously it’s an amazing experience,” Gross said. “Knowing they were putting in the work, that was really nice and thoughtful of them.”

There was, unfortunately, one more bump in the road – getting Gross and Chaffee healthy enough to compete.

Right before the decision to move the District was made, and just 10 days before it was contested, Chaffee took a thrown ball off the kneecap. A day later, Gross injured her ankle and foot long jumping. Neither was cleared until the day before the District tournament.

“We’ve been nursing injuries, nursing arms for about the last month,” said Kopf, who has just 11 players on his roster. “Once we knew we were out of the conference race, we had to save some bodies and be smart with how we practiced. Coming into Thursday, we were still waiting to hear if Nevaeh and Ava were going to be able to play. Both got cleared Thursday, and when (we) got on the bus Friday, that was probably the most focused group I’ve seen.”

Miller pitched a pair of complete games for the Comets in the District, getting a shutout against Farwell and striking out a total of 17 batters over the two games. She also had five hits. Gross had four hits on the day.

“It was very, very special,” Miller said. “Going into it, I wasn’t able to pitch more than one game. My arm had kind of let go, and I didn’t have anything left. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get us to where we needed to be. In the past couple years, I’ve noticed I throw a lot better in the heat, and we hadn’t really had many hot-weather games.”

The next day, the trio was on the track in Hudsonville. In addition to their relay, Miller competed in the long jump and the pole vault, while Chafee ran the 100 meters. She had qualified for the 200, but scratched to save herself for the relay.

They teamed with Nehrig to run a season-best time of 52.62 seconds in the second-to-last heat. They had to watch the final heat to see if they’d place.

“That heat was insane,” Miller said. “It was very insane. They had live timing and live results, so as soon as that heat was done we knew. It was almost immediate.”

Now, the girls can focus solely on softball as the Comets prepare for a Regional Semifinal on Saturday against Alcona at Carson City-Crystal.

But they hope that this weekend’s experience wasn’t once-in-a-lifetime, and they can repeat it a year from now. Without all the nervous moments beforehand, of course.

“I look forward to it, actually,” Chaffee said.

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) From left, Coleman’s Nevaeh Chaffee, Madison Miller and Ava Gross show their team’s District softball trophy won Friday at Beal City. (Middle) From left, Chaffee, Gross, Amber Nehrig and Miller take a relay photo together Saturday at the LP Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville’s Baldwin Middle School. (Photos courtesy of the Coleman athletic department.)