Saint Mark's is back at the top level of Delaware high school football, whether they like it or not.
The Milltown-area private school saw a decline in attendance in the early part of this century, to the point they started seeing declines in many sports, and in 2014-15 reclassified from Division 1 to Division 2 under the traditional DIAA system.
The tide has turned recently, with enrollment at Saint Mark's up 50% overall since 2019 according to Director of Admissions Rob DeMasi, and combining that with 16-4 record in the past two regular seasons, including a win this year over 3A-1 champion Appoquinimink, they were selected to become the 12th member of Class 3A starting next fall.
The DIAA was looking to add a 12th member to the largest schools classification due to scheduling issues, with 3A-2 only having five teams, meaning they only had five guaranteed games -- 4-team round robin plus one mandated crossover against 3A-1 -- and the odd number meant that even in classification weeks in Delaware someone had to go to another state, another classification, or take a bye week.
Using a 50/50 blend of enrollment and winning percentage, the DIAA's Subcommittee said they singled out Newark, Howard, Saint Mark's, and Sussex Tech as potential promotion teams.
Part of the DIAA's rules were that no team in the bottom half of enrollment in Delaware would be required to move up, which disqualified small successful private schools including Archmere, Friends, and Caravel.
From the four remaining teams, Saint Mark's had the highest winning percentage, largest roster size, most playoff victories, and head-to-head wins over Newark and Howard on their resume.
Due to those factors, the subcommittee picked Saint Mark's, to the objection of Saint Mark's Athletic Director Matt Smith, a member of the DIAA Board of Directors.
Smith argued that Howard should have been a 3A team in the initial process in 2021, but political pressure including from State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, eventually forced the DIAA to relent and go with just 11 teams, with Howard in 2A.
The Spartans went 11-1 in their two seasons in 2A-1, with their only loss to Delaware Military Academy coming in 2021.
DMA had originally expressed interest in becoming the 12th member of 3A, but backed off soon after head coach Nick Lincoln was suspended 30 days and Athletic Director Jeremy Jeanne was given probation for using an ineligible player in their 2022 season opener against Howard.
There will be movement between 2A and 1A.
2021 1A champion Laurel was recommended, and rapidly-growing Odessa petitioned to move up to 2A.
Both already played four 2A teams the past two seasons, and Odessa will have a full compliment of grades for the first time next fall.
Saint Elizabeth will remain at 1A despite making the last two state championship games. Their last winning record before the past two years was in 2012. Saint Elizabeth will lose 2,000-yard rusher Quasim Benson, Chris Caracter, and several other key players from the past two seasons.
The DIAA said it was Wilmington Charter and Seaford, and not Saint Elizabeth, that was considered along with Laurel to be jumped.
Four teams dropped from 2A to 1A, all via request.
A.I. duPont, a former state power, did not have enough players to complete the 2021 season, or play at the varsity level in 2022.
Brandywine, which went winless in 2021; Conrad, who went 2-10 against 2A teams over the past two seasons; and McKean, who nearly made this years playoffs but were 0-8 against 2A teams not named Conrad or Delcastle, all successfully petitioned to drop.
Delcastle, who went 3-17 the past two seasons despite having one of the largest enrollments in Delaware, will remain in 2A.
There were shifts made at each of the three levels.
In 3A, Saint Mark's enters and goes to the northern-based 3A-1, where they will be reunited with Salesianum, resuming a rivalry last played in 2019.
St. Georges volunteered to go to 3A-2, where they'll join Henlopen North squads Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen, Dover, Smyrna, and Sussex Central.
In 2A, Laurel joins 2A-3 for an all-Henlopen district, which includes Delmar, Lake Forest, Milford, Sussex Tech, and Woodbridge.
Odessa will slide into 2A-2, where they'll join private schools Archmere, Tower Hill and Friends, along with Howard and Mount Pleasant.
Caravel and Red Lion both jumped north to 2A-1, where they'll compete with Concord, Delcastle, DMA, and Newark for playoff spots.
1A becomes a hodgepodge of geography.
Brandywine and Conrad will head to a southern-based 1A-2 where they'll play Early College, First State Military, Indian River, Polytech, Saint Andrew's, and Seaford.
Tatnall will be split from their DISC rivals in 1A-a, and now compete with A.I. duPont, Christiana, Dickinson, Glasgow, McKean, Saint Elizabeth, and Wilmington Charter.
Playoffs will now be comprised of 8 teams in each of the three classifications, with the final details on qualifying to be determined at a later date.
2023 & 2024 DIAA FOOTBALL DISTRICTS
Appoquinimink, Hodgson, Middletown, Salesianum, Saint Mark's, William Penn
Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen, Dover, Smyrna, St. Georges, Sussex Central
Caravel, Concord, Delcastle, DMA, Newark, Red Lion
Archmere, Howard, Mount Pleasant, Odessa, Tower Hill, Friends
Delmar, Lake Forest, Laurel, Milford, Sussex Tech, Woodbridge
A.I. duPont, Christiana, Dickinson, Glasgow, McKean, Saint Elizabeth, Tatnall, Wilmington Charter
Brandywine, Conrad, Early College, First State Military, Indian River, Polytech, St. Andrew's, Seaford