Even before the Brewer High School hockey team took the opening faceoff in the Class B state final at the Colisee in Lewiston on Saturday, some fans of other teams were complaining that the Witches were playing in the wrong game.
Brewer had been a Class A program the previous two years, and been a competitive Class A team at that with back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Maine semifinals.
But in 2007 the Witches were Class B state champs, and even though their 2010 enrollment placed them back in Class B the complainers wondered why the team hadn’t petitioned up to play with the big boys.
I just didn’t get the complaints.
Teams bounce back and forth between classes routinely in other sports, and no one seems outraged.
And it’s not unusual for schools that drop in class to have immediate success at their new level, because rather than being the smallest school in the higher class they suddenly become one of the largest schools in the lower class.
Take Schenck of East Millinocket, which dropped from Class C to Class D and promptly won the state championship in boys basketball. The Wolverines were one of a number of schools that switched classes this year, the first-year of the current two-year cycle for classification employed by the Maine Principals’ Association.
Rather than complain that because the Wolverines were talented they should have “played up,” Schenck has been lauded simply for being the state’s best in its assigned class — as it should be.
Teams do have the right to petition up a class under MPA rules but must make a four-year commitment to the higher class. That commitment is seen as too long by most schools, given that by doing so they most likely will become the smallest school in the larger class.
It’s a choice that has worked for the Waterville hockey program. The Purple Panthers, who fell to Biddeford 3-0 in Saturday night’s Class A state final, boast a storied history of Class A hockey including 20 state championships, the most recent in 2009.
But with the manufacturing base of the Elm City disappearing, the high school enrollment at Waterville has dropped over the years to 640, well below the current Class A hockey cutoff of 850.
The Purple Panthers have opted to remain in Class A in several sports in which they have enjoyed traditional success, including hockey and boys and girls soccer.
That is Waterville’s choice, and the Purple Panthers are to be congratulated for their success in those sports, as well as in the sports where they have excelled as a Class B program, such as girls’ basketball.
But that school’s choices are irrelevant to Brewer’s decision to abide by MPA cutoffs and move back to Class B when its enrollment for classification purposes is 817, making it a Class B school for hockey.
Ironically, the Witches experienced the best of both classes this winter, reaching the Eastern A final in boys basketball — where by enrollment they are a Class A program — and then defeating York 3-1 to win the Class B state title in hockey.
Sure, there are even those within the Brewer hockey program who would like to test themselves against the best of Class A.
But to complain because the Witches chose to play at their designated level is merely another case of trying to minimize someone else’s success.
Brewer did nothing but follow the rules — not only on the ice, but off it, too.