MPA approves basketball changes

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Last Thursday, April 30, the general membership of the Maine Principals’ Association approved expanding the state’s high school basketball ranks from four classes to five beginning next winter.

From a Forecaster Country perspective, Class AA, the largest class, will include Cheverus, Deering and Portland in the North division, along with Bangor, Edward Little, Lewiston, Oxford Hills and Windham, and McAuley, Scarborough and South Portland in the South division, along with Bonny Eagle, Gorham, Massabesic, Noble, Sanford and Thornton Academy.

The new Class A South includes Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely, Morse and Mt. Ararat, along with Biddeford, Fryeburg Academy, Kennebunk, Leavitt, Marshwood, Westbrook and York.

Freeport and Yarmouth will be part of Class B South, joining Gray-New Gloucester, Lake Region, Lincoln Academy, Lisbon, Maranacook, Mountain Valley, Oak Hill, Poland, Sacopee Valley, Spruce Mountain and Wells.

Hyde, North Yarmouth Academy and Waynflete will be part of Class C South, joining Boothbay, Buckfield, Carrabec, Dirigo, Hall-Dale, Hebron Academy, Kents Hill, Madison, Monmouth Academy, Mt. Abram, Old Orchard Beach, Richmond, Searsport, St. Dom’s, Telstar, Traip Academy, Winthrop and Wiscasset.

While turnout for the meeting that opened the Maine Principals’ Association’s annual spring conference at the Samoset Resort was heavier than normal in anticipation of a close vote, it never materialized.

Members approved the five-class concept, 67-29, just moments after overwhelmingly rejecting an amendment that would have delayed implementation of a five-class proposal for a year.

The five-class format was developed largely to address changing demographics throughout Maine, including a shrinking student base and a southward population migration.

Class AA will have two regional divisions of schools with enrollments of 824 students or more beginning next winter, with Class A for schools with between 545 and 823 students, Class B for schools with between 325 and 544 students, Class C for schools with between 131 and 324 students and Class D for schools with 0 to 130 students.

The five-class format was one of several proposals developed by the Classification Committee that gained final approval from the general membership.

The following proposals were approved without discussion:

— Increasing the maximum number of students of a given gender for high schools to use eighth-graders to fill out a sports team from 40 to 60.

— Allowing for cooperative teams in all sports.

— Reducing wrestling and Alpine skiing from three classes to two due to declining participation.

— Renaming East and West divisions for sports to North and South.

— Reducing the Heal Point differential per class from five points to two points in an effort to boost cross-class competition during the regular season.

— Cutting the cycle for petitioning to play up a class in any sport from four years to two years.

“I think certainly this was a very historic day for high school athletics in Maine,” said Gary Stevens, athletic administrator at the state’s largest high school, Thornton Academy. “There were a whole host of issues discussed today, and they’re all very much interrelated.

“Looking at the big picture, I think having five classes certainly serves the vast majority of the schools in this state very well, particularly those smaller schools like the community schools in Aroostook County where people are so passionate about basketball. I think it gives those small schools a real competitive opportunity in the tournament against schools where the disparity of enrollments won’t be as great as it’s been more recently.”

The five-class proposal generated only a moderate amount of debate before the vote took place, barely more than an ensuing discussion about enrollment cutoff levels for Nordic skiing.

Scheduling, both for regular-season games and tournament play, now will become the focus of basketball attention both within the MPA and conferences around the state.

MPA Executive Director Dick Durost said no formal talks have been held yet about next year’s basketball tournament, but now that the five-class proposal has been approved and an additional class will have to be accommodated for postseason play, basketball tournament officials are set to meet Friday.

Meanwhile, conferences are in varying stages of creating their regular-season schedules for the 2015-16 season.

Stevens said officials of the Southwestern Maine Activities Association, which includes most of the Class AA schools, have had informal scheduling discussions that include a likely constitutional change that would allow it to schedule games against the four nonmember Class AA North schools — Bangor, Edward Little of Auburn, Lewiston and Oxford Hills.

“We have some challenges ahead,” said Stevens. “We have to figure out the tournament format and where we’re going to place the tournament regions, but we have good principals and athletic directors around the state that can make sound decisions based on data, and I think they will accomplish that.”

“The conversation among athletic directors in the state was that we knew this was going to come. The question was whether it would be today or April 2016, and I think people realized that the day was today.”