Fifth class for basketball could create new rivalries

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One reason Maine Principals’ Association committees have proposed adding a fifth class to the state’s high school basketball ranks beginning next season is to reduce the student enrollment differential between the largest and smallest schools in each class.

The idea is to give the smallest teams in a class a better chance to be competitive against the bigger schools, since the larger schools wouldn’t start with an advantage based on the overall number of students from which to draw athletes.

A review of the recent basketball state championship games might suggest that at least at the uppermost enrollment level, the state’s biggest schools would be eager to rid themselves of the challenges presented by the smaller schools, at least in the short term.

Both newly crowned Class A state champions, the Hampden Academy boys and Lawrence of Fairfield girls, were among the smallest schools in that class this year. They would not face their state final opponents again in the 2016 state finals should they earn the opportunity to defend their titles.

Under the five-class proposal that remains subject to final approval by the MPA general membership this spring, the state’s 15 largest high schools — including the nine with more than 1,000 students — would be placed in a new, single-division Class AA along with Cheverus of Portland and McAuley of Portland, which traditionally have petitioned up to the state’s largest class.

The smallest school in the proposed Class AA would be Gorham with 838 students as of April 1, 2014, the date used for the next two-year reclassification cycle.

That’s considerably more than either Hampden Academy (691) or Lawrence (674), which would be just the sixth- and seventh-largest schools in the revised 14-team Class A North under consideration.

Lawrence not only defeated the state’s largest school, Thornton Academy of Saco, 50-43 in Saturday afternoon’s Class A girls state final, but with 1,422 students, Thornton had more than double the Bulldogs’ enrollment.

The differential for Saturday’s boys final was less substantial, with Hampden scoring a 70-50 win over Portland — a school with 868 students.

The five-class proposal would leave both reigning Class A champs competing for regional honors next year against a mix of teams they have battled traditionally for regional honors, including Messalonskee of Oakland, Skowhegan, Mt. Blue of Farmington, Brewer and Cony of Augusta.

There also is the possibility of an Eastern Maine tournament matchup between Hampden and 2015 Eastern B champion Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, which along with Camden Hills of Rockport, Nokomis of Newport, Gardiner, Waterville, Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston and Erskine Academy of South China would move from the Eastern B to the new A North.

Medomak Valley, with 546 students, would be the smallest A North school under the five-class plan.

The Panthers’ opponent in last Friday’s Class B final, new state champion Cape Elizabeth, would be the smallest team in the new A South under the five-class plan with its 555 students.

New Class B girls state champion Greely of Cumberland Center (664 students) also would be in A South if the plan is approved, but reigning Eastern B champion Presque Isle (544) would become the largest school in the new Class B North.

That could set the Wildcats up for a possible tournament faceoff against Class C state champion Houlton, which also would be assigned to B North. Presque Isle and Houlton already meet twice during the regular season.

New Western C champion Maranacook of Readfield (421) would be in B South.

The Class C state champion Calais boys and their opponent in the state final, Dirigo of Dixfield, could conceivably meet again in next year’s championship game, with those schools penciled in to compete in Class C North and South, respectively.

Calais, with 278 students, would be the fifth-largest school in a C North division headed by George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill (320), while Dirigo (314) would be the largest school in C South.

But Calais could have to go through new Eastern D champion Fort Fairfield to get to another state game as Fort Fairfield (144) would become the second-smallest school in C North.

Among the other 2015 Class D finalists, the state champion Washburn girls (124) would play in D North and the state champion Forest Hills of Jackman boys (61) and Western D champion Rangeley girls (47) would compete in D South under the five-class proposal.

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