AUGUSTA, Maine — The classification committee of the Maine Principals’ Association barely had finished tweaking its recommendations for the biennial reclassification of the state’s interscholastic athletic programs — including its show of support for a four-class football proposal — on Wednesday when the conversation veered toward a need to update the process.
It’s been an ongoing conversation based on changing demographics within the Pine Tree State.
A declining student population statewide has resulted in an increasing number of smaller schools that compete in either Class C or Class D, while Maine’s large-school ranks are becoming fewer and fewer and are increasingly concentrated in the southernmost part of the state.
Those facts already have presented a challenge to current individual-sport committees as well as the classification committee that follows it in the process as they have sought to provide as level a playing field as possible for schools around the state.
And with the expectation that the shrinking student-population trend will continue has come an increased sense of urgency to study alternatives and address whether changes are needed in the classification process before the following two-year cycle — for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years — comes up for discussion.
“When you look at the number of schools in C and D and the number of schools in A, chances are the number of Class A schools won’t be growing any time soon and chances are the numbers of C and D schools will continue to grow,” said MPA assistant executive director Gerry Durgin.
“I think it’s imperative not to wait two years and then try to come in for three months and consider how to deal with this. We need to sit with coaches, athletic directors and administrators and really take a look at the classification process.”
Several possibilities for updating the current enrollment-based classification process already have been identified, ranging from a more regionalized approach for all sports to adding a fifth class — either for the largest or smallest schools — for basketball.
“We really need to look at different options for trying to classify teams and schools,” said Bunky Dow, chairman of the MPA classification committee and athletic administrator at Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor. “We’ve talked about regionalizing classes. I don’t know if that’s the answer. We’ve talked about using an average enrollment over the last three or five years. There are some other models out there, too, that we will look at and see what’s going to work best for our state.”
In the meantime, the classification panel gave its unanimous blessing to an updated four-class proposal for high school football as well as fine-tuned its recommendations for other sports.
Schools will have the chance to appeal their placements through Feb. 6. The final reclassification proposal for the next two-year academic cycle that begins this fall will be considered by the MPA’s interscholastic management committee on March 14 before facing a final vote by the MPA’s general membership at the end of March.
“The schools have had the opportunity all the way through to express any concerns if they’ve had them,” said Durgin.
The four-class football proposal, which has been in the works for more than two years, would provide for two eight-team divisions in Class A, a nine-school Eastern Maine Class B and 11 schools in Western B, and two 10-team divisions in both Classes C and D.
Among the most recent changes made by the MPA’s football committee before it forwarded its most recent proposal to the classification committee last week were shifting Gorham, Brunswick and Mount Ararat of Topsham from Class A to Class B with Brunswick in the East and Gorham and Mount Ararat to the West, and elevating Foxcroft Academy and Yarmouth from Class D to Class C to provide for 10-team divisions in both of those classes. Foxcroft would join Eastern C and Yarmouth would play in Western C under the current plan.
“I think all the committees have done a good job in looking out for the best interests of their individual sports, and I feel that football has got it right,” said Dow. “If you look at what class my school is in [MDI in Eastern C], there’s not one big powerhouse in that class. I think there’s going to be a lot of competitiveness not only in that class, but in the other classes as well.”
Several other classification issues involving appeals made by individual schools to their most recent placements in various sports also were addressed.
• The soccer and field hockey teams from Falmouth and Windham were placed in Western Maine Class A rather than in the East. Falmouth, a perennial Class B soccer power, had been moved up by enrollment to Class A while Windham already was a Western A member in both sports, but those schools — the two northernmost in Western A — previously were shifted to the East in an effort to balance the number of teams in the two regions.
Both schools appealed to remain in Western A, and the classification committee agreed to leave them in the West as it would not affect the number of Class A soccer and field hockey teams statewide that would qualify for postseason play.
• Leavitt of Turner Center similarly was allowed to remain in Western B in field hockey rather than be shifted to the East.
• Bangor Christian was allowed to remain in Eastern Maine Class D in all sports. That school appealed an earlier proposal to move it to Western D in soccer in an effort to help alleviate a discrepancy in the number of Class D schools in the East (21) compared to the West (13), citing its long-standing membership in the Eastern Maine-based Penobscot Valley Conference.
• The enrollment cutoff between Class B and Class C in outdoor track and field — which has just three classes — was revised from a maximum of 435 in Class C to a maximum of 460. That change directly affects five schools — Foxcroft Academy, Mount View of Thorndike, John Bapst of Bangor, Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield and Yarmouth, all of which would be shifted from Class B to Class C.
The move was done in great part to provide Eastern Maine a host location for a Class C state championship meet. Foxcroft Academy, with an enrollment of 457, has hosted several such events in the past at its Oakes Field complex in Dover-Foxcroft. Had the Ponies been elevated to Class B, that may have left the remaining Eastern Maine schools in Class C without a viable host-school site to stage a state championship meet.
Committee members also suggested that it would benefit other Eastern C outdoor track programs by retaining Foxcroft as a host site for regular-season events involving their schools.