Benson drops to Class B: What’s next for Bunnies?

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January 24th, 2014

Omaha, NE – After being bounced to Class B for the next two years in football, Benson is left trying to fix falling enrollment at their school.

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The NSAA uses enrollment figures for grades nine through 11 to classify schools and Benson’s current enrollment is 795. This places the high school in 30th place in total enrollment in the state of Nebraska. The only OPS high school to ever drop from Class A to Class B is Omaha Tech High, a now defunct high school.

NSAA Assistant Director Nate Neuhaus said Benson’s move to class B was pretty simple.

“Their enrollment figures fell such that when we select the top 28 schools by enrollment and place them in Class A, Bensons’ numbers were not in the top 28,” Neuhaus said.

The Nebraska State Activities Association (NSAA) announced in December new football classifications for 2014 and 2015. (Photo Courtesy NSAA)

The Nebraska State Activities Association (NSAA) announced in December new football classifications for 2014 and 2015. (Photo Courtesy NSAA)

The top 28 schools based on enrollment are designated to Class A, Nebraska’s largest classification. The next 32 are classified as Class B, Nebraska’s second largest grouping. NSAA football classifications and scheduling are done on a two-year basis and all other sports and activities are scheduled on a one-year basis. The NSAA does not allow the school to opt up or down a class in football. However, other school sponsored sports and activities have the option to switch to another class. There is no official word on whether Benson will opt for Class A in other sports going forward.

Head girls’ basketball coach at Benson, Jonathan Perone, said the problem is complex.

Perone said Monroe middle school, a key source for students historically for Benson, has also seen drops in enrollment in recent years.  He pointed to two new middle schools in the Omaha Public Schools district where area students are flocking instead of Monroe – Davis and Buffet Middle Schools. Buffet opened in 2004 and Davis opened in 2013. Perone said as students go further west for middle school they aren’t returning to the inner city for high school.

“Lots of kids are going from our neighborhood to those middle schools and generally do not come back,” Perone said. “They are either going to Central, Burke or Northwest. Generally, Monroe has pumped students into us. When I taught at Monroe in 2005, there was over 837 students in there. Now they are fighting to keep four or five hundred.  That trend has ultimately led to kids not coming back to Benson when we used to get them right across the parking lot.”

According to official enrollment figures from OPS, Benson saw a steady drop between 2009 and 2012. Benson lost more than 300 students from their total enrollment during that span. Benson did increase its total enrollment slightly from 2012 to 2013, adding 11 more students.

Perone said other area OPS high schools like North and Central have seen shrinking enrollment from around their school area as well. But unlike North and Central, Benson has not been able to get students to flock to their school from other places in Omaha.

Jon Perone (center) coaches his Benson girls' basketball team. (Photo Courtesy Jonathon Perone)

Jon Perone (center) coaches his Benson girls’ basketball team. (Photo Courtesy Jonathon Perone)

Perone said a pillar of strength for Benson going back 30 years has been the basketball programs. He said it cannot be understated how essential basketball is to the school and its history.

“Anytime you talk about that from the 80s and 90s, with boys basketball for sure and now with girls basketball recently too,” Perone said. “Basketball is a big thing here, a big thing in our neighborhood and it’s a big thing in our school. It’s has always been a positive avenue for our kids and rightfully so, with the history and tradition that Benson basketball has had over the years.”

Both Benson’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams are ranked third in the current Class A Nebraska top ten. That is a remarkable feat for a school that is ranked 30th in total enrollment, according to Perone. He said this is a perfect example of what Benson teachers and administrators can use as a calling card to bring potential students through Benson’s doors.

OPS’ official statement regarding Benson’s move to Class B:

“Benson, like other high schools in the metro area, has experienced variances in its enrollment over the last several years.  This academic year’s official enrollment numbers are up slightly over those of last year–and we are presently taking steps to attract even more students to Benson for the next academic year.”

Perone said he is hopeful to get enrollment back to levels experienced 10-15 years ago. He also made a point to explain his goal as coach and mentor at Benson.

“Success isn’t equaled off of numbers – success is equaled on how you handle things and how you do things with yourself and with the kids inside the building,” Perone said. “At the same time we want to be equal and at the same level with all the schools in OPS with enrollment and that just gives you just a little bit better picture in the neighborhood. So I think those things have to change for us to move forward here with our enrollment and our success.”

Perone also said an increase in efforts at open houses would also help immensely. These are events where parents and potential students visit Benson to see what they have to offer.

Next year Benson will be in District 1 in Class B. They will compete against Omaha Roncalli Catholic, Omaha Gross Catholic and Ralston.

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