The news was largely good for athletes, coaches and fans of high school sports Monday when the Maine Principals’ Association’s Interscholastic Management Committee backed off several proposed changes to deal with reductions in state subsidies.
In December an MPA ad-hoc committee announced it was considering several controversial changes to high school athletics to “ensure a level playing field around the state.”
The initial proposals would’ve reduced the maximum number of countable games in every sport; enforced a shorter season for hockey and swimming; reduced the number of scrimmages and exhibitions dates to two; eliminated New England participation and reduced the number of teams that qualify for the postseason from 67 to 50 percent.
The original intent was for the changes to take effect in the upcoming spring season.
On Monday, the 10-member management committee consisting of Maine principals, assistant principals and headmasters, reviewed the proposals one-by-one and voted:
• 7-3 to reject a proposal to reduce the number of countable games by two.
• 9-1 to reject reducing the ice hockey and swimming seasons by one week.
• 8-2 to limit all teams to five non-countable dates (exhibitions, scrimmages, holiday tournaments, etc.) instead of two. Conference championships and pre-playoff scrimmages are not included.
• 9-1 to allow 50 percent of teams in Heal Points sports to qualify for the playoffs. Currently, the top 67 percent qualify. That means teams like Waynflete’s boys’ soccer squad (which rose from the No. 11 seed to reach the Class C Final last fall) will be on the outside looking in in the future. The rule will be reviewed in two years.
• 9-1 to continue to allow Maine athletes to compete in the New England Secondary School Principals’ Association competitions.
The 10-member committee also voted to urge a two-year moratorium on fees and travel reimbursements for officials.
This year’s spring sports will be exempt and the changes will take effect in the fall.
A swell of dissent from fans, athletes, coaches and administrators greeted the proposals.
Over two dozen administrators attended the meeting Monday, while about a dozen athletes lined an outside walkway leading to MPA offices and held signs urging the committee to reject the proposals.
One of the most vociferous critics was attorney Gary Prolman, the president of the Maine High School Hockey Invitational tournament and sponsor of the “Fix Cup,” a hockey tournament that honors the life of former broadcaster Frank Fixaris.
Prolman was pleased with the vote.
“I’m really relieved,” he said. “I didn’t want to have to sue the MPA on behalf of student-athletes in the state of Maine. I’m ecstatic they listened to people across the board from many sports. You don’t see these kinds of grassroots campaigns very often. People were motivated to call and write. When is the last time you saw people band together like this?”
The proposals prompted Maine House Minority leader Josh Tardy, R-Newport, to introduce a bill limiting the MPA’s jurisdiction over Maine high school sports.
There was no Cumberland County representation on the original 15-person committee, nor was there anyone from Lewiston-Auburn. The only representatives from southern Maine were Sanford athletic director Gordie Salls and York principal Bob Stevens, who served as Chair.
MPA Executive Director Dick Durost said that Monday’s vote “proves that the process that this organization uses works.”
“I think coming in it probably went the way I expected it would go, but I never expected that it was an all-or-nothing proposal,” added Oak Hill High School assistant principal Bob Birmingham, a member of the Interscholastic Management Committee. “I think people worked in the best interest of interscholastic sports and co-curricular activities in general.
“I got feedback that ranged from those recommendations not going far enough to rejecting the entire proposal, and everywhere in between. The one trying to eliminate New England competitions was a huge one, and I think people felt very strongly that the locals should be able to dictate how much competition their individual communities would participate in.”
Sun Journal staff writer Randy Whitehouse contributed to this story
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org