There's a reason why Leroy Marsh is smiling, and it's not just the Munster football coach's pleasant disposition.
After years of having his Mustangs butt heads, largely unsuccessfully, against bigger 5A schools in the sectional, the addition of a sixth class offers promise for better times ahead in Munster.
"For us, it's a welcome relief obviously," Marsh said. "It gives us a little more reason for hope to be much more competitive after a long time."
The Indiana High School Athletic Association issued its enrollment figures for 2013-14 on Tuesday, and Munster, at 59th, remains one of the smallest 5As in the state. The good news is with the addition of the 6A 'super class' next season, the 32 biggest schools now comprise a field of their own. Among those 32 schools are six Duneland Athletic Conference schools in Lake and Porter counties that made up the bulk of Sectional 1.
"Being a school of 1,560 (students), theoretically not having to play Ben Davis, a school of 5,000, is such a great thing," said Marsh, who was actively involved in the development of the Indiana Football Coaches Association's proposal to add a class. "Football is such a different sport, the numbers, the size of the players and programs, the number of coaches, the facilities."
Under the new format, 5A and 6A sectionals will have four teams. At first glance, Munster would likely be paired with LaPorte, Michigan City and either South Bend Adams or McCutcheon. The closest, Michigan City, is roughly an hour from Columbia Ave., but the long trip is a trade-off that Marsh will gladly accept.
"We'll take that bus ride any time, particularly when we're playing somebody three times our size," he said.
At the other end of the spectrum is Chesterton coach John Snyder, whose school went from 34th in enrollment to 30th, going from what would have been a large 5A to the third smallest 6A. The road gets even rougher now for the Trojans, who may be looking at a sectional that includes Penn.
"My biggest disappointment is that the idea of six classes was to make the classes more even top to bottom but that's not what happened," Snyder said. "We are literally closer in enrollment to the smallest football-playing school than we are to Ben Davis. There's not a 2,600-student discrepancy in any other class, but there is in 6A."
Classifications will be set and published within the next two weeks, followed by the realignment in April. The IHSAA must also incorporate the success factor, which will prompt the move of schools like Lafayette Central Catholic, Fort Wayne Luers, Indianapolis Chatard and Indianapolis Cathedral up a class. Based on the raw figures, Andrean (194) and Wheeler (195) are the second and third largest 2As.
"The numbers still aren't completely written in stone," Marsh said. "Once they get past 320, any overflow goes to 5A, and right now they're at 322, so there's still a lot up in the air."
Marsh believes the addition of a sixth class in football may be just the beginning.
"It may not stop here," he said. "I think you're going to see it happen in other sports."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.