When a Maine Principals’ Association committee meets Monday to consider several proposals designed to reduce costs for interscholastic athletics in the state, one expensive transportation issue surrounding the subject likely will go undiscussed.
That’s the need for major scheduling changes for Heal point sports, far beyond cutting a regular-season game or two and dictating how many scrimmages teams can hold.
Durwood Heal’s mathematical formula for ranking teams around the state has served Maine well for 60 years. Few can argue that it hasn’t been both fair and fairly accurate in measuring the relative strength of teams in the same class that may not face each other during the season.
But the landscape has changed drastically since the late 1940s when the Heal points replaced the practice of having a selection committee seed tournament teams.
A glimpse at the final 1961 Heal points for boys basketball found Eastern Maine Class LL to stretch from Gardiner and Rockland to Fort Kent, Fort Fairfield, Limestone, and Madawaska.
But of the 22 Class LL teams in 1961, just Bangor, Brewer, Cony, Lawrence and Skowhegan remain in what is now Eastern Maine Class A today.
And as the population has flown south — Fort Fairfield and Limestone are now in Class D, Fort Kent and Madawaska are in C, and Gardiner and Rockland are in B — many rural schools now face significant scheduling challenges in order to keep up with the Heal points, which awards weighted preliminary index values to schools based on classification.
The three-time defending Eastern Maine Class C champion Calais boys basketball team, for example, now travels to Madawaska and to the Hyde School of Bath, as well as meeting Gould Academy of Bethel in Bangor, in order to schedule enough Class C schools to stay competitive in the standings.
If the Blue Devils instead opted to play only Downeast Athletic Conference colleagues — which now are mostly Class D squads — they would be left far down the Heal point ratings no matter their frequency of victory. They’d likely have to travel for preliminary-round games no matter their record, and similarly would face a more difficult draw if they eventually qualified for the tournament in Bangor.
Calais isn’t alone. Look at tonight’s schedule, which among other contests sends Greenville to Vinalhaven and Georges Valley of Thomaston to Mount Abram of Salem in the shadow of Sugarloaf USA.
Some of those trips are arranged by conferences trying to be fair to all schools in the same class within their jurisdictions.
But that effort requires literally hundreds of miles on a bus at considerable cost just to keep up with the Heal points. Luckily, gas prices have dropped drastically from their mid-summer highs of more than $4 per gallon, but who can predict what fuel will cost next year?
The MPA faces a daunting task, because this truly is a case of two Maines. While Eastern Maine Class A spans from Bangor to South Paris, for example, Western Maine Class A is confined to York and Cumberland counties.
The differences are similar in Classes B and C.
I don’t know if adjusting the Heal point system to make it more palatable for schools to face more neighboring opponents from lower classes is an answer, but if not it may be necessary to consider the possibility that after 60 years, Durwood Heal’s magical mathematical formula, while fair and fairly accurate, may be geographically obsolete.