AUGUSTA, Maine — The classification committee of the Maine Principals’ Association has released to member schools a proposal for its biennial reclassification of interscholastic sports in the state that would take effect next fall.
The committee has faced two major challenges in its regularly scheduled updating of the state’s interscholastic playing field by class and region for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years, according to MPA assistant executive director Gerry Durgin.
“We’ve got to deal with both the decreasing number and decreasing enrollments at the Class A schools, and at the other end there’s the increasing number of schools in Class D, particularly in Eastern Maine,” he said.
And while the committee’s proposed changes aren’t numerous — with Erskine Academy moving from Class A to Class B and Washington Academy of East Machias shifting from Class B to Class C the two athletic programs perhaps most affected — some other interesting changes have been suggested within individual sports.
In soccer, for instance, perennial Class B power Falmouth — which has won nine boys’ state titles in that division since 2000 and the last three girls’ state crowns — would be shifted from Western B to Eastern A for postseason play, while 2011 Class A boys’ soccer state champion Windham would move from Western A to Eastern A.
Falmouth and Windham also would become Eastern A schools in field hockey by enrollment under the proposal while remaining in Western Maine in the other sports with East and West divisions.
Falmouth currently is a Class B school in all sports, but its enrollment of 727 as of April 1, 2012, will make it a Class A school in all sports except for girls’ ice hockey and boys’ and girls’ lacrosse based on the recommended enrollment cutoffs for each sport for the next two-year cycle.
It’s expected that both Falmouth and Windham would retain Western Maine-based regular-season schedules in their Eastern Maine sports.
Among other notable changes, two-time defending Class C wrestling state champion Foxcroft Academy would be elevated to Class B based on enrollment, Stearns of Millinocket would drop from Class C to Class D in basketball and baseball, and Searsport would shift from Class C to Class D in soccer, basketball, baseball and softball.
Also, Bangor Christian, which resides barely 10 minutes from the site of the Eastern Maine B, C and D basketball tournament at the Bangor Auditorium, would be relocated from Eastern D to Western D in that sport.
This classification proposal does not include football, as the MPA’s football committee currently is addressing appeals made by Oceanside High School of Rockland-Thomaston and Gorham High School to its plan to expand that sport from three to four classes beginning next fall.
The current reclassification proposal is a preliminary document, said Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor athletic administrator Bunky Dow, who is chairman of the MPA classification committee.
Dow said schools may appeal any placements that have been suggested under the current proposal, with the classification committee set to meet again Jan. 22 to discuss any remaining issues.
The classification proposal subsequently will be sent to the MPA’s interscholastic management committee for its consideration before being subject to final approval by the association’s general membership in late March.
“This is a step in the process,” said Dow. “What we’ve tried to do is create as much balance as we could in each class and each region in the Heal point sports.”
Dealing with changes for the larger schools, the committee adjusted the minimum enrollment for Class A programs from its current 725 students to 705 for the next two-year cycle in sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball, softball and cheering, Otherwise, there would have been just 11 Eastern A schools in soccer and 10 Eastern A schools in basketball, cheering, softball and baseball.
The downsizing of the Class A enrollment minimum by 20 students enables Mt. Blue of Farmington, with 724 students as of April 1, 2012, Lawrence of Fairfield (712) and Brewer (709) to remain in Eastern A in those sports, as well as Hampden Academy with its 725 students.
Other enrollment divisions for soccer, basketball, cheering, baseball and softball under the classification committee’s proposal are the following: Class B, 425-704; Class C, 192-424 for baseball, softball and cheering and 190-424 for basketball and soccer; and Class D, 0-191 for baseball, softball and cheering and 0-189 for basketball and soccer.
For Class D, the task in recent years has been to limit the Eastern Maine field to fewer than 24 schools, otherwise a second round of preliminary-round play might be required in some sports. The current proposal includes 23 Eastern D schools in basketball, 21 in soccer, 20 in baseball and 19 in softball.
Western D, meanwhile, has no such potential for overrepresentation, with the current classification proposal providing for 18 schools in basketball, 15 in soccer, 12 in baseball and 11 in softball.
In an effort to help alleviate the difference in the number of schools between Eastern and Western D, Bangor Christian originally was being moved from East to West in soccer, a sport in which the Patriots’ boys teams have won the last four Class D state championships.
And while subsequent discussions led to Bangor Christian remaining an Eastern D soccer school in the latest proposal, the current proposal has the Patriots being shifted from Eastern to Western D in basketball.
School officials are against that proposal, citing Bangor Christian’s proximity to the sport’s Eastern Maine tournament site across town as well as its belief that shifting a single school from East to West won’t solve the discrepancy between the total number of schools in each division.
“We’re opposed to being placed in the West in any sport,” said Bangor Christian headmaster Jim Frost. “We understand the committee has a very, very difficult task to try to keep everybody happy, but we’re certainly going to advocate for the best interests of our student-athletes.”
In a somewhat related move, once Searsport High School learned it would be dropping from Class C to Class D by enrollment in basketball, soccer, baseball and softball it requested to be shifted to Western Maine in those sports.
Such a move likely would set up natural rivalries with nearby island schools already in Western D such as Islesboro, Vinalhaven and North Haven. It also could enhance the Vikings’ chances of competing for regional championships against the smaller Western Maine fields.
“In Eastern Maine in Class D, you’ve got one chance to get to the finals among 20 or more schools,” said Durgin. “In Western Maine it’s one in 10 or 15, so there may be some other people willing to move before this is all done.”