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Back in the 1800s, athletics were not a part of the secondary school program; rather, such activities were operated by organizations such as the YMCA. At the turn of the century, students in schools began forming student athletic associations. They were formed primarily for one purpose: recreation, with the primary motive “to have fun.” Students selected their own players and managers and scheduled their own games. Teams were associated by name with their high schools, although schools assumed no responsibility for organizing and administering the program. However, being associated with schools by name caused some embarrassment when disputes arose.
As the athletic competition between student athletic associations began to attract more attention, it was not long before adults with an athletic interest sought to play with students on these teams. Non-school persons with previous athletic interest volunteered to coach teams, and some of them played on teams they were coaching. Even after a few schools began to have teachers employed as coaches, some of them also competed. In fact, in our state of North Dakota, early teams often times consisted of students, coaches, bus drivers and janitors. It was not uncommon for boys or young men to enroll in the fall and then drop out of school after the football season was over. This they might do for six or seven years or more. Eventually, school officials across the nation decided they had to either eliminate athletic contests between schools or exercise responsibility and authority for controlling them. The latter, of course, was considered more feasible and was later adopted. This was exactly what happened in North Dakota.
The need for uniformity among schools was recognized by Superintendent G.W. Hanna of Valley City and in the fall of 1907 he invited representatives of a few other schools to a meeting in Valley City to consider such. A second meeting, called by Principal H.L. Rockwood of Valley City for the adoption of a constitution was held in Grand Forks on January 1 and 2, 1908. Records show that 29 schools attended this meeting, however only four schools (Valley City, Jamestown, Grafton and Grand Forks) became charter members paying their dues ($1.50) on January 2. Two others (Casselton and Hankinson) joined later that school year. Twenty schools belonged the following school year of 1908-09. Thereafter, there was a steady growth in membership with 80 schools belonging in 1921 and 103 out of a total 162 classified high schools in 1925. Superintendent G.W. Hanna served as president of the organization the first year and a half, and was succeeded by Superintendent A.G. Crane of Jamestown for the 1908-09 school term.
The original constitution opened membership to any high school in North Dakota, but in 1910 this was amended so as to allow membership only to classified high schools. This excluded the consolidated high schools (approximately one-third of the schools of the state) from membership. Consequently the consolidated high schools formed a League of their own in 1921, with membership being open to third class classified high schools as well as the consolidated high schools. Membership in this League grew from 15 the first year to 56 in 1925. No records are available in the NDHSAA office as to membership in the Consolidated League after that date. Since the Consolidated League was enrolling several third class classified high schools in their League, the High School League changed their constitution in 1925, allowing consolidated schools of equivalent rank to third class classified schools to petition for membership in the League. As a result, several third class classified schools belonged to the Consolidated League and some consolidated schools belonged to the High School League. Some schools enrolled in both Leagues, and some even participated in basketball elimination tournaments in both in the 1930s. In fact, in 1934, Svea, a consolidated school in Barnes County, was eliminated in district play in the Consolidated League Tourney and then entered Class B district play in the High School League going on to take second place in the State Class B Tournament. This prompted the High School League to adopt a rule restricting schools with membership in both Leagues to participation in tournaments for one League only.
A common misconception is that the League in its early days was strictly an athletic association. Such is not the case – in that the original constitution in 1908 lists the purpose of the League as “To control and further interests in athletic and literary contests.” In 1917, this was amended to read, “To control and further interest of the inter-high school contests,” and at that time music was added to the list of activities. To quote G.W. Hanna, “Theoretically the League could control all inter-high school competition, but in practice it began with basketball and football.” The state contest in literary events, music, track and tennis, although under the direction of the Board of Control, were actually administered by the University of North Dakota in the early years. Track and tennis were administered by the University until 1937 and by the Board of Control beginning in 1938. State contests in literary events and music were discontinued by the University during World War II years, and were resumed again in 1949 with complete administration by the High School League. This led to a subsequent change in the name of the organization to the North Dakota High School Activities Association in 1955.
As mentioned earlier, the League at the beginning was concerned mostly with the administration of the football and basketball programs. Unofficial state title football games were played beginning in 1910 with the first official game in 1919. These were discontinued by the League after the 1924 season. Unofficial title games were played off and on after that with the winner of the Class A East-West Conference game being recognized as state champion from 1938 to 1959. Official Class A and B championship football play-offs have been in effect since 1975. State champions have been determined in boys’ basketball since 1914. Schools competed in one class until 1933, at which time A and B divisions were formed. In 1948, a Class C divisions made up of the smaller schools in the League was formed. For a period of three years, 1948 through 1950, four state champions in the High School League were crowned as well as one in the Consolidated League. From 1948 through 1963 the League maintained 3 divisions for basketball, but went back to the two class system in 1964, which prevails at the present time.
The Constitution of the old Consolidated League also listed as its purpose the controlling of inter-school declamation, debate, music and athletic contests of its members. However, again, the League limited itself mainly to the administration of basketball and conducted state tournaments in the same during some years of its existence. After the 1950 season, the Consolidated League merged with the High School League, becoming a part of the “C” division, “for a 5-year trial period.” Actually, the merger has existed to the present time. It is rumored, though there is nothing in the records to verify the same, that there was a gentleman’s agreement at the time of the merger, that the Class C division would never be abolished except upon a vote of the Class C schools themselves. However, when the vote was taken in 1963 to go back to the two class system, all member schools voted on the amendment. Athletics for girls was more or less a hit or miss proposition until 1974.
The original constitution adopted in 1908 contained the following provision: “In girls’ basketball we agree that girls’ rules shall govern schools involved.” No reference of any sort concerning girls’ basketball is made in the revised constitution of 1910, but in the 1917 revision reference is again made to the same as follows: “All games in girls’ basketball played in this League shall be played under girls’ rules.” The following statement was added in 1925: “There shall be no state tournament for girls’ teams.” In an article concerning athletics for girls found in the 1933 Handbook, the following statement is made: “The Association recommends that girls do not participate in any form of interscholastic basketball or tournaments.” In 1936 a survey conducted by the League showed that 55 classified schools favored interscholastic basketball for girls with 33 participating in the same, while 75 were not in favor of interscholastic competition. Twenty-six favored holding tournaments for girls with 17 participating in such, while 99 were opposed. No reference is made to the sport in the revised Constitution and By-Laws of 1938, but the question and answer section which follows states again that, “the League has never ruled against girls’ basketball and that students in schools holding such contests must meet the eligibility rules.” The Consolidated League, however, besides authorizing girls’ basketball held state tournaments during part of their existence. During the very first years, girls’ teams used boys’ rules, but they had no state tournament series. During the 1930s, they started using girls’ rules and a tournament series was organized which continued in operation until 1950. This was continued after the merger of the two Leagues in the Class C division until 1960. Organized basketball for girls more or less disappeared from the picture until 1974 when state champions were named in both the Class A and Class B divisions.
Girls’ sports started to take a more prominent position with the NDHSAA in the mid 1960’s. Girls’ golf, tennis and track were sponsored by the NDHSAA beginning in the spring of 1966 and gymnastics was added in 1968-69. Girls’ basketball had a “re-birth “ in the fall of 1973 when the NDHSAA sponsored combined district level competition. In the fall of 1974, girls’ swimming and diving was fi rst sponsored and Class A and B basketball separated and there was a state tournament for each class. In the fall of 1979, Class A and B girls’ cross-country was first sponsored. In the winter of 1982-83, Class A girls’ volleyball was sponsored at the regional level and extended to the state tournament level in 1983-84. Class B volleyball was added through the state level in 1988-89. The last two additions were girls’ soccer which was added in the spring of 1996 and girls’ hockey added in 2002-03.
Some changes and additions were also made in boys’ sports in the last 40 years, including the Class A football play-off plan that began in the fall of 1975. Boys’ soccer was first sponsored in the fall of 1995 and sand greens golf was discontinued in 1996. The present four division football play-off series began in the fall of 1997 and Class A baseball was first sponsored in the spring of 2000.
Some historic changes which placed North Dakota on the cutting edge nationally included the three point line for boys’ basketball, adopted in 1981-82 and for girls in the fall of 1983. Class A boys’ basketball coaches tried the shot clock in 1995-96 and adopted its use in 1996-97. Then in the 2002-03 came the change that reverberated through the state and was motivated by a nationwide evolution: the switch of girls’ volleyball to the fall and girls’ basketball to the winter. It is also interesting to compare Association budgets from the early years to the present. In the first 3 years of the North Dakota High School League, the budget ranged from $30 to $45. In 1982-83 the budget was nearly a half million dollars while the 2007-08 budget was well over a million dollars.