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THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: The small schools get their league back — in football, anyway

| October 7, 2021 1:30 AM

Times change.

There was a time when Wallace played teams as big as Sandpoint in football — and beat teams like Sandpoint.

Of course, that was back in the mid-1980s.

Times change.

Next fall, Wallace will play football in 1A Division II — Idaho's smallest-school classification — for the first time.

So will Lakeside — which will also drop to 1A Division II next year in football only.

"We'll get our league back," Lakeside athletic director Jerel Hight said last week to the Idaho High School Activities Association board of control, at a meeting in Hailey where he made his case for Lakeside — and Wallace — to drop to 1A Division II in football only, effective the next two-year classification cycle, which runs from 2022-24.

Wallace and Lakeside will remain in 1A Division I in all other sports. But for the first time, the IHSAA allowed teams to petition down a division in football only.

And five schools took the IHSAA up on its offer, and all five were approved. The others were Castleford (from 1A Division I to Division II), Wood River (from 4A to 3A) and Shoshone (from 1A Division I to Division II).

(Lewis County, a football co-op in Division II which has played competitive games with Lakeside the past couple years, successfully petitioned to drop from 1A Division I to Division II).

THIS IS a good thing for the North Star League, as well as Wallace and Lakeside.

Next year, along with Kootenai, Clark Fork and Mullan/St. Regis, there will be five teams playing football in that league.

Which was kinda like it has been for years — though while Wallace was part of the league, the Miners would play in the higher division come playoff time.

From 2004-15, Wallace was a regular in the state 1A Division I playoffs, though the Miners' stays were often short. Wallace reached the state semifinals in 2009 and ’11.

The Miners have not been in the playoffs since 2015.

In 2020 and this season, the winner of the Scenic Idaho Conference between Lakeside and Wallace advanced to state. Last year it was Lakeside.

Lakeside has been a 1A Division I school since 2001. The previous three years, the Knights were A-3 (what is now basically 2A). Lakeside was also A-3 for a couple years in the early 1990s.

Lakeside made it to the A-4 playoffs 1995, ’96 and ’97, as well as the A-3 playoffs in 2000.

Until last season, Lakeside's last trip to the playoffs was in 2001, when the Knights lost in the 1A first round to Notus.

Last fall, the Knights qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 19 seasons — and their reward was a 78-6 loss at eventual state 1A Division I champion Oakley.

"Yeah, we made it to state, but we were completely demoralized," Hight told the IHSAA board.

SO THE football league with the five teams in it is shaping up to be a pretty good league the next couple of years. Mullan/St. Regis has been the top team for the past few seasons, and Clark Fork is often competitive. Kootenai is down now, but there was a stretch where the Warriors were the top team in the North Star League.

Wonder what they'll call this league? Will they call it the North Star League for old times' sake, even with two schools basically "on loan" from the Scenic Idaho Conference for football.

Or will they come up with a hybrid name, like when the North Star and the Whitepine League combined for a few seasons in football, and dubbed themselves the White Star League.

Could this be the Scenic Star League? The North Idaho Conference? The Scenic North Conference? The ...

Whatever they end up calling it, the games should be fun to watch.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @CdAPressSports.

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