AUGUSTA — A plan to add a fifth class for Maine high school basketball beginning next season moved another step toward reality Wednesday.
The Classification Committee of the Maine Principals’ Association gave unanimous approval Wednesday to a proposal that would add a single-division “Super A” class involving the state’s largest basketball-playing schools to the long-established four-class structure.
Classes 2A, 3A, 4A and 5A, as they are named in the proposal, would continue to have two regional divisions each, though those divisions may be renamed north and south rather than east and west to reflect a truer geographic delineation.
The five-class proposal, which has been under consideration for the last year, is prompted in great part by declining student enrollments and the southward migration of the state’s population, which have combined to swell the number of smaller schools in northern and eastern Maine during recent years while concentrating most of the largest schools in the southern counties.
Eastern Maine Class D last winter consisted of 24 schools for boys and girls basketball, the most possible under the tournament format without adding a second preliminary round.
Those numbers were the largest for any regional division of the sport statewide during the 2013-14 season and compared with just 13 Eastern A schools in boys and girls basketball.
The five-class proposal, which would take effect in the 2015-16 season if it gains final approval from the full MPA membership, also would reduce the enrollment gaps between the largest and smallest schools in each class.
Enrollment cutoffs for the 2014-15 basketball season are 705-plus for Class A, 425-704 (a 279-student differential) for Class B, 190-424 (234 differential) for Class C and 0-189 for Class D.
Under the five-class format, enrollments for Super A schools would be 825-plus, 545-824 (a 279-student differential) for Class 2A, 315-544 (229 differential) for 3A, 121-314 (193 differential) for 4A and 0-120 for 5A.
The enrollments being used for the next two-year cycle are those as of April 1, 2014.
“There’s 152 schools that are covered by the Maine Principals’ Association, and there are 142 schools that offer basketball,” Bunky Dow, athletic administrator at Mount Desert High School of Bar Harbor and chairman of the MPA Classification Committee, said. “There’s an overabundance of teams in each class, so we’re trying to make it so the differential within each class is less than it is now so we can have more competitive balance.”
The single-division “Super A” class would have 16 boys teams and 17 girls teams, including boys and girls squads from Cheverus High School in Portland and the girls team from Catherine McAuley School of Portland. Cheverus and McAuley traditionally have petitioned up to play basketball in the state’s largest-school class.
Other “Super A” schools would be Thornton Academy of Saco, Lewiston, Bangor, Bonny Eagle of Standish, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Sanford, Scarborough, Massabesic of Waterboro, Windham, Edward Little of Auburn, Deering of Portland, Portland, South Portland, Noble of North Berwick and Gorham.
Class 2A would have 13 schools in the east and 13 in the west; Class 3A would have 18 schools in the east and 13 in the west; Class 4A would have 19 schools in the east and 19 in the west; and Class 5A would have 14 in the east and 13 in the west.
“I think you’ll find there’s more balance from east to west,” Dow said. ”It’s not perfect, but it’s better.”
The Classification Committee plans to share its five-class proposal with the MPA’s basketball committee before the classification panel’s next meeting scheduled for Jan. 14, 2015.
Once the Classification Committee completes its work with all interscholastic sports for the next two-year cycle that begins with the 2015-16 academic year, it will forward its recommendations to member schools in early February for feedback.
The classification committee then will meet again to consider any concerns or questions as well as address any changes to its work, such as a school petitioning to play up a class in a sport, before sending its final product on to the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee in early March. The full MPA membership will have the final say on the matter at its annual spring meeting.
“I think it’s a real good proposal,” Dow said. “It’s going to keep a lot of traditional leagues and schedules intact. There are a few adjustments, but honestly nothing that can’t be worked out.”