Money, size and other factors have kept some small high schools from fielding athletic teams in certain sports over the last few years, but a new rule may make it possible for students in those schools to play again. Last week 419 schools voted on the Missouri State High Schools Activities Association’s (MSHSAA) Proposal 6 and passed it 219-210. The new by-law will allow schools in Classes 1,2 and 3 to co-op it’s students to create sports teams which will represent both schools.

The idea of allowing schools to co-op for athletics is not a new one. According to MSHAA Executive Director Becky Oakes, the discussion has grown over the last six to eight years, but she said this was the first year that a majority agreed to make put it on the books.

For many small schools the financial burden of fielding a team, and the travel that goes with it, became too heavy. “Schools were having to drop programs, or consider dropping programs, and they saw this as an alternative to keep their kids available for participation,” Oakes said. She believes football may benefit the most from the new rule.

Opponents of the proposal fear some schools will take advantage of the by-law to create “super teams”. Some safeguards were implemented in the plan, which MSHAA hopes will discourage that from happening. Most notably, the two schools will add their enrollment numbers together and that number will be applied to determine which class the new team will play in. For example, the new team may be in Class 3 or 4 instead of Class 2.

Also, the two schools that are combining for one team have to be in school districts next to one another or at least close by. Another requirement is that one of the two schools would have to have been without that particular sport for at least a year.

Oakes said school pride may also discourage schools from combining. She said, “The school that comes in to co-op, they lose a little bit of their identity. Losing your identity in school athletics or activities is not, generally, very popular.”

The new rule will take effect in the 2006-2007 school year.