ROCKPORT — Expanding Maine high school football from three to four classes has been discussed for years. Last year, the move to four classes became more serious, and Thursday morning the Maine Principals’ Association made the move official at its annual spring meeting at the Samoset Resort.
The plan was part of the MPA’s overall classification plan for the next two years, and passed without any debate by a majority show of hands.
“Two years ago, we decided not to rush the process, continue it for two more year, to allow input from schools,” Todd Livingston, chairman of the MPA’s football committee, said. “Just due diligence. I think that showed today.”
In 2010, a proposal to expand high school football from three to four classes was put on hold. Concerns surrounding increased travel, competitive balance, and the loss of long-standing rivalries were named as reasons the plan didn’t fly in 2010.
Last April, the football committee began to look at four classes again. In May, the group submitted a first draft, and over the ensuing months, the plan was tweaked a few times before going to the classification committee in January.
Beginning this fall, Class A will consist of schools with enrollments of 875 students and higher. Class B will be 600-874 students, and Class C will consist of school with 455-599 students. Class D will be schools with enrollments of 454 and lower. The Class D cutoff was raised slightly to 454 to ensure the Winthrop-Monmouth team, which became a co-operative football program earlier this month, would remain in Class D.
The biggest changes will be felt in Class A, where Portland, Deering, Cheverus and Windham, traditionally Western Maine teams, will play in the East. This is the second time Windham will play in the East. The Eagles were in the Pine Tree Conference in 2003 and 2004.
Leagues around the state had already begun crafting schedules for the upcoming season, under the assumption that the proposal would pass. Now, the biggest question is where to host four state championship games.
Since 2002, all three state championship games have been held on the same Saturday at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium. Livingston said four games in one day is probably not feasible.
“We’d be pretty early and pretty late, and with the distance traveled by some of those schools, it could be a problem,” Livingston said.
One possibility would be to play one championship game on Friday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium, with the other three on Saturday. Another idea is to include a second site, possibly the University of Maine, and play two games at each venue, or rotate between the sites in alternating years.
The football committee will take up the state championship game issue when it meets in August, Livingston said.
Other decisions made by the MPA at Wednesday’s meeting include:
• Wrestlers will compete in a New England qualifying meet to determine which athletes advance to the New England championship meet. The qualifying meet will feature the top four finishers from each weight class from the Class A, B and C state meets.
For now, wrestling will remain at three classes, although there has been discussion about eliminating Class C.
“Right now, our numbers are really pushing us in that direction,” Gerry Durgin, assistant executive director of the MPA, said.
• A change to the way the MPA round off to determine tournament qualification was approved for the upcoming Fall. In sports in which two-thirds of the teams in a region qualify for the playoffs, past practice has been to round up when the decimal point is half or more, and to round down when the decimal point is less.
Now, everything will round up. For example, if there are 17 teams in a division, two-thirds is 11.33. In the past, that would mean the top 11 teams qualified for the playoffs. Now, 12 will qualify for the postseason.
• Guidelines concerning transgender student participation were adopted. Transgender student athletes will have to first request a hearing at the school level, in which documentation must be provided to support the student’s request. That will be followed by a hearing in front of the MPA.
A Gender Identity Equity Committee, consisting of four MPA members and a physician with experience in this field, will be formed, MPA Executive Director Dick Durost said.
“This is the right thing to do,” Durost said.
• A proposal by the Ski Committee to separate the Nordic and Alpine state championships to different days and sites was accepted. As of now, with the state championships are held during February vacation week, and many of the larger Alpine facilities are unable to host because of the lost revenue in one of the busiest weeks of the season.
In the future, Alpine championships will be held the Friday and Saturday following the February vacation, when facilities at places such as Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Shawnee Peak are available.
Nordic championships will continue to be held during February break.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242