The sun sets over Washington Academy in East Machias, Maine, on Nov. 9, 2020. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Two independent coastal high schools will get some COVID-19 relief regarding sports reclassification over the next two years in response to the impact of the pandemic on their enrollments.

Washington Academy of East Machias will move from Class B to Class C in several sports for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years while George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill will remain in Class C for boys and girls basketball.

The final reclassification of all Maine Principals’ Association-sanctioned sports teams for those academic years has been approved by that organization’s general membership.

Washington Academy of East Machias originally was pegged to remain in Class B in baseball, softball, tennis, cross country and golf based on its April 1, 2020, enrollment of 392. The enrollment cutoff established between Classes B and C for those sports is 379.

GSA’s enrollment of 326 on April 1, 2020, was just above the Class B basketball minimum of 325. That would have moved the Eagles up from Class C in that sport.

But Washington Academy’s enrollment dropped from 392 in April 2020 to 327 last October 1, a reduction of 17 percent, while George Stevens’ enrollment fell from 326 to 304 (7 percent) during the same period.

Washington Academy head of school Judson McBrine said the significant enrollment drop at his school stemmed from a more than 50 percent reduction in international students from 51 last year to 25 this year. It also welcomed a small freshman class because some families opted for home schooling or virtual classes through another outlet such as the Maine Virtual Academy.

After the MPA classification committee completed its recommendations for the upcoming cycle in mid-March, WA and GSA sought waivers because of the reductions in their student populations since the onset of the pandemic.

“When they were working on reclassifying this year, I heard fairly early on that they were considering the impact of COVID on school enrollment and how that would apply to classification,” McBrine said. “It wouldn’t have necessarily been for town academies with international programs, but any school.”

The MPA interscholastic management committee granted the waivers, allowing the two schools to apply their October 2020 enrollments to the reclassification of their teams, MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson said.

“Those were the only two schools that put in for waivers just because they were dramatically impacted by their inability to get foreign students,” he added.

Bisson said one question raised during the appeal process was what would happen if enrollments at those schools began to return to pre-pandemic levels during the upcoming classification cycle.

“I think we would communicate with those two schools just to check in and see what those numbers looked like at that point,” he said, “but I don’t foresee it next year, anyway.”

Washington Academy’s October 2020 enrollment of 327 fell just shy of enabling the Raiders to move from Class B to Class C in basketball. It does place the school in the small-school division of 8-player football, where the maximum enrollment is 354.

That is, provided the MPA offers tackle football this fall after canceling the sport in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.

For the first time this year, football teams will be able to play down a class and still be eligible for postseason play. The move was designed for safety reasons and in an effort to preserve existing programs amid declining participation.

Schools that will play down a class if tackle football is reinstated include the 11-player programs from Hampden Academy, Class B North to Class C North; Gardiner, B North to C South; Westbrook-Waynflete, B South to C South, and Freeport, John Bapst of Bangor and Poland, from Class C to Class D.

Houlton-Hodgdon’s football program also successfully petitioned down to play in the small-school ranks of the 8-player division.

Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield has opted to move up from Class D to Class C in football this fall while shifting from Class B to Class C in cross country, field hockey, golf, soccer, baseball, softball and tennis based on enrollment.

Cony of Augusta will drop from Class A to Class B in cross country, field hockey, golf, soccer, baseball, softball and tennis.

In basketball, Hampden Academy will shift from Class A to Class AA. Other moves include Medomak Valley of Waldoboro from Class A North to Class B South, Oceanside of Rockland from B North to B South, Bucksport from C North to B North, Freeport from B South to A South and Leavitt of Turner Center and York from A South to B South.

Brewer’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams will move from Class B to Class A.

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...