Basketball: Plan approved for statewide Class AA under five-class system
Mar. 6—High school basketball in Maine will remain at five classes next season, but with notable changes for schools in the largest enrollment class and for programs that have struggled in recent years.
Under a plan approved by the Maine Principals' Association's Classification Committee on Monday, teams that have won fewer than 25% of their games over the previous four seasons will be eligible to play one class lower than dictated by their enrollment. Under this scenario, boys' and girls' teams at eligible schools could play in different classes.
AA, the enrollment class for the state's largest schools, will consist of schools with 825 or more students, up from the current cutoff of 800 students. With just 14 schools on the boys' side and 15 on the girls', Class AA will be a single, statewide class, rather than the North/South regional format used in the other four classes. This winter, there were 17 schools in Class AA, divided into two geographic regions. The move to one statewide class allows for Class AA quarterfinal games to be played at a neutral site, rather than at the home gym of the higher seed as it is currently.
Class A will include enrollments of 585 to 824 students, Class B 315 to 584, Class C 130 to 314, and Class D 129 and lower. Class A is currently 550 to 799 students, Class B is 325 to 549, Class C is 130 to 324. Class D remains at 129 and lower.
Under the plan approved Monday, 11 boys' teams and 12 girls' teams could play down a class without having to petition the MPA.
The boys' teams are: Massabesic, Noble, Erskine Academy, Gardiner, Morse, Belfast, John Bapst, Waterville, Buckfield, Telstar and Wiscasset.
The 12 girls' teams are: Deering, Biddeford, Morse, Belfast, Bucksport, Orono, Leavitt, Poland, Lee Academy, Telstar, Waynflete and Wiscasset.
The changes will take effect for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years.
MPA Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson said the committee began the day looking at two plans, but quickly moved away from one that would have moved high school basketball back to four classes, as it had been prior to the 2015-16 season. The reasoning was that plan would have moved too many schools around, including schools currently in Class A that would have to compete with opponents twice their size in a new, larger Class A with four classes, Bisson said.
The Classification Committee will hold another meeting on March 16 to hear any appeals from schools. The plan eventually will need approval from the MPA's general membership this spring.
Coaches and administrators at schools with struggling programs were largely in favor of the new plan.
The Wiscasset boys' basketball team had just two wins over the last four seasons. Coach Rick Larrabee said moving from Class C to D would be another step in rebuilding the program, which ended the regular season with a 47-43 win over Class D Vinalhaven.
"I have eight or nine freshmen coming in next season, and six guys returning. We look to have a really good summer program. If we're able to get a handful of wins (next season), no matter who we play, it will be a great next step," Larrabee said. "Do we want to drop down? No, but if it helps us, we're going to utilize it."
Massabesic Athletic Director Brendan Scully said he thinks the move to Class A is the right move for his boys' team, which has played in AA.
"I believe competing with Biddeford, Kennebunk, Noble, (and) Marshwood for us is very appropriate," Scully said.
Scully said he had not seen the approved classification structure as of midafternoon, and was curious how it affected the Massabesic girls' team, which lacked enough players to compete at the varsity level this winter. MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said subvarsity seasons were not factored in, and could be considered for a waiver to drop down a class.
John Morgan, the boys' basketball coach at Noble, said he believes his team — coming off a 7-11 regular season after consecutive one-win seasons in 2019-20 and 2021-22 (there was only a modified season in 2020-21 because of the pandemic) — is trending upward in Class AA. That said, he thinks Class A will be a good fit for his program.
"I know both AA and A are very competitive. (I) wouldn't mind being in either," Morgan said.
By raising the cutoff for Class AA, Hampden Academy, with an enrollment of 810, moves back to Class A. Longtime boys' coach Russ Bartlett, who led the Broncos to three Class A state titles and five regional crowns from 2013 to 2020, said he's likes the move, mostly because it will cut back the time his team spends traveling for road games.
"Honestly, I'm a big proponent of four divisions. I didn't imagine we'd be dropping from AA to A," Bartlett said.
Ross Burdick, the athletic director at Waynflete, said he and girls' basketball coach Andrew Leach would first meet with the team, then make a determination on if they would play in Class D or stay in Class C.
"I don't think it would affect our regular-season schedule, as we would probably play a very similar schedule to now," Burdick said.