Kyle Goodrich (left) of Brewer tries to get the ball away from Hampden Academy's Zach McLaughlin during the game against Brewer High School on Jan. 22, 2021. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The shift of Cony High School of Augusta from Class A to Class B in many sports and the elevation of Hampden Academy’s basketball teams to Class AA are among the most notable potential changes in the initial recommendations of the Maine Principals’ Association classification committee for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.

“The committee set a philosophy early on that they didn’t want to make drastic changes,” MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson said.

“They wanted to keep it as consistent as possible knowing there was going to be some natural movement based on the majority of schools getting smaller and a handful of schools getting larger,” he said.

Cony’s enrollment, like those of most public high schools in Maine, has dropped, from 673 students for the current two-year cycle to 630 as of April 1, 2020. That’s the enrollment date used for classifying schools based on statistics obtained from the state Department of Education.

As a result, the Rams are expected to move from Class A to Class B in cross country, field hockey, golf, soccer, baseball, softball and tennis.

Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield would be another major mover, from Class B to Class C in cross country, field hockey, golf, soccer, baseball, softball and tennis. The Huskies also would go from Class C to Class D in 11-player football and as a cooperative entry with Nokomis of Newport from Class A to Class C in boys lacrosse.

Other recommendations include programs at two schools with increasing enrollments moving up a class. That would have Hampden Academy basketball teams shifting from Class A to Class AA and the Brewer indoor and outdoor track teams going from Class B to Class A.

Hampden was the Class A boys basketball state champion in 2020, while the Broncos’ girls team is the three-time defending Class A North titlist. Its enrollment increased from 770 two years ago to 801 for the pending cycle, just above the 800-student minimum for Class AA.

“Hampden Academy moves up to AA, but really unless you were going to manipulate that low-end number for AA and change it, it was inevitable that they were going to go up,” said Brewer athletic administrator Dave Utterback, chair of the classification committee.

Hampden returns to the largest-school basketball class for the first time since the MPA added Class AA as a fifth class for the 2015-16 season.

“As far as the basketball goes, it doesn’t concern me any more than playing in Class A,” said Hampden boys basketball coach Russ Bartlett. “The years when we played as a smaller school [before the addition of Class AA] we were fine, obviously because we had talented players.”

Hampden would join neighboring Bangor in traveling to Portland for much of its regular season as well as nearly all of its tournament play.

“If I’m from Presque Isle I understand this problem, but we haven’t had to deal with that problem yet and to think that not only are we six miles from the Cross Insurance Center and we’re also going to drive by the Augusta Civic Center to play a playoff game in Portland I find to be ridiculous,” Bartlett said.

Other schools on track to shift classes and/or regions in basketball are Medomak Valley of Waldoboro from Class A North to Class B South, Oceanside of Rockland from B North to B South, George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill and Bucksport from C North to Class B North, Freeport from B South to A South and Leavitt of Turner Center and York from A South to B South.

Brewer’s track and field teams — the girls squad is the two-time defending Class B state indoor champion as well as the 2019 state champ outdoors — will face similar upward movement. The Witches faced a similar situation two years ago when the school’s baseball and softball teams moved from Class B to Class A not long after winning state championships — Brewer won it all in Class B softball in 2018 and 2019 and captured the baseball title in 2018.

“Do we want to be in Class A? No. If it was a preferred pick, we feel like we’re a Class B school in those activities, but it is what it is,” Utterback said. “Our kids will rise to the challenge and be ready for it.”

A proposal developed by the MPA football committee provides for four classes of 11-player football, with single divisions in Classes A and D and North and South divisions in Classes B and C. Also planned are two 14-team divisions of 8-player football, one for large schools with an enrollment of 355 or greater and a small-school division for schools with up to 354 students.

There is an accommodation for 11-player schools to petition down from their assigned class to a lower class and still be eligible for postseason play. Bisson expects as many as six schools may take advantage of that opportunity while rebuilding their programs.

“Football’s honestly going to be a year-to-year thing at this point,” Utterback said. “We expect changes every year and football’s going to be really flexible in that regard.”

Schools may appeal their placements in any sport to the classification committee next Monday, with a written appeal submitted this Friday.

Following the next classification meeting, the proposal will be presented to the MPA’s interscholastic management committee on March 25. The final version of the proposal will be presented to the MPA’s general membership for final approval at its late-April interscholastic business meeting.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...