Published Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 2:44 pm
high school athletics
Enrollment decline at Omaha Benson may drop Bunnies from Class A

Omaha Benson could be playing Class B football in 2014 and 2015.

With the school's three-grade (nine, 10 and 11) enrollment hovering near 800 this fall, it's expected that Benson will not be in Class A as one of the 28 largest high schools in the state for the 2014-15 school year.

The Nebraska School Activities Association will release its official enrollment figures and classifications by January, the month in which it draws up football schedules.

Benson Principal Anita Baldwin said Tuesday that the school wants to remain in Class A. But that might not be possible in football.

The NSAA board, which sets classifications, voted in October 2007 to bar schools from opting up a class in football, a measure primarily intended for Classes A and B because of scheduling. An odd number of teams in Class A would require scheduling Class B teams for some schools.

While the NSAA has allowed schools to opt up in all other sports and activities, the association does not have a policy governing the practice.

The NSAA board is expected to consider a policy at its monthly meeting Thursday in Lincoln. Baldwin said she and Omaha Public Schools officials then will weigh Benson's options.

“We feel our students deserve the chance to play in Class A,” Baldwin said. “We will pursue those avenues to the fullest extent we can.”

Football is the only NSAA activity on a two-year classification cycle, again for scheduling reasons. A two-year cycle allows teams to play on a home-and-home basis. Even if Benson's enrollment increases to put it back among the 28 largest for the 2015-16 school year, it would have to wait until the 2016 season to rejoin Class A in football.

Preliminary grade counts from the Omaha Public Schools had Benson with 243 freshman, 286 sophomores and 266 juniors — 795 total — as of Sept. 27, the State Department of Education reporting date. Benson also has 358 seniors.

For this school year, using figures from last fall, Benson's three-grade enrollment of 878 tied it with North Platte as the 26th largest school in many NSAA sports. The 28th school is South Sioux City at 850. The two largest Class B schools are Columbus at 823 and Lincoln Pius X at 810.

Omaha Tech has been the only OPS school to drop into Class B, for the 1974-75 season. At that time, football scheduling was done by schools, not the NSAA. The NSAA also had no provision for schools to play up a class.

Tech lost to Crete 76-57 in the 1975 Class B championship game in boys basketball. The school was Class A when it closed in 1984.

Benson has hit rough times recently in football. Its record is 14-92 since 2001, when it was 7-3 with a playoff appearance. Of the three other OPS teams struggling in football, Omaha Bryan has 26 wins in the past 11 seasons, Omaha South 16 and Omaha Northwest 13.

The Bunnies are 1-5 this year. Their win was 32-20 over Northwest. They've lost to top-ranked Omaha North 48-0 and No. 2 Omaha Westside 63-7, and host No. 5 Omaha Burke on Friday night.

This is the second year Benson has been coached by Tony Kobza, a former assistant at Lincoln Southwest. Baldwin said she made a good hire.

“It's the best thing I could have done for the football program,” she said. “I knew it would be a complete rebuilding effort, not just in wins and losses, but we had to make headway through accountability, demeanor, playing hard, academics, school pride, tenacity.

“Tony has made great headway. The team that played on TV last week at homecoming is much different than what we had even at the beginning of this year. I'm confident that very soon we can be one of the premier teams in OPS with Tony's leadership.”

In Class B, Benson's opponents could include neighboring Omaha Roncalli, which hasn't played Benson since 1967, when Roncalli was known as Rummel. Other possible foes are Omaha Gross, Omaha Skutt, Ralston, Blair, Elkhorn, Elkhorn South, Elkhorn Mount Michael and Gretna.

Some of Benson's nondistrict games also could be outside its area. None of the Omaha-area schools in Class B has a schedule made up entirely of local teams.

Contact the writer: Stu Pospisil    |   402-444-1041    |  

Stu Pospisil has been The World-Herald's lead writer for high school sports since 1990 and for golf since 1988. He primarily covers football in the fall, basketball and wrestling in the winter and track and field in the spring.

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