Change is coming, maybe.

There are 275 varsity high school basketball teams in Maine, 137 boys and 138 girls. For years, the season has ended with eight schools hoisting a gold ball. If a proposal approved by the Maine Principals’ Association classification committee passes a full membership vote next spring, 10 gold balls will 10 earned.

The four class, East/West alignment of high school basketball in Maine goes back decades. While it’s been tweaked here and there over the years, with teams moving up or down classes or switching regions, the format has been the same for generations.

The proposal which passed the MPA’s classification committee would expand high school basketball to five classes, eliminate the East/West regions, and change the names of each division. The largest schools would be 1A, or Super A, and would compete in a statewide division. There would be 2A, 3A, 4A, and 5A. The more A’s, the smaller the schools in the division. East and West would be replaced by North and South.

The basketball committee will take a look at this proposal, and it could receive a vote from the MPA membership in the spring.

To change something that has remained constant for so long so much may seem like opening a candy bar with a sledgehammer, but in truth, the classification committee should be commended for being proactive.

This is less a basketball issue than a socioeconomic one. It’s a reaction to changes that have been happening in Maine for decades. To look at why the change in high school hoops is necessary, look at the shrinking population of Eastern Maine.

For the sake of high school sports, Eastern Maine has traditionally stretched north and east from Augusta. While some of Maine’s southern and coastal counties have grown, population has dropped in the northern counties. The biggest example of this may be Stearns High School of Millinocket.

Stearns went from Class A to Class D in a span of approximately 20 years. Stearns was never a large Class A school, but it did well against the big schools for a long time. In 1994, Stearns dropped to Class B. A few years ago, the Minutemen joined Class D. With a current enrollment of around 185 students, Stearns’ days in Class A seem mythological.

Ten years ago, there were 21 schools playing in Eastern Maine Class A. This season there are 13. That’s only two fewer than 20 years ago, when 15 teams played in Eastern Class A, but here’s the thing: seven of the 15 teams in Eastern A in 1994 now play in Class B. If schools like Lewiston, Edward Little, Brunswick, Mt. Ararat and Oxford Hills hadn’t moved from the West, Eastern Class A would have eight schools. North of Bangor, Class A is extinct. Unless oil is discovered in Aroostook County, the population is not coming back.

There’s a trickle down effect. Seven of the 18 teams in Eastern B in 1994 now play in Class C or D. This season, there are 22 basketball teams in boys and girls Eastern Class D. If nothing is done, soon the region will have to play preliminary games to qualify for preliminary games in the tournament. A fifth division, separating the small schools from the very small schools, makes sense.

The names of the divisions leave something to be desired. It looks like the committee went out of the way to avoid putting any schools in a Class E, although 5A is nothing but Class E with a flashier coat of paint. There’s no stigma in being a small school, but if the MPA wants to avoid Class E, maybe it could order the classes by number, as is done in neighboring northern New England states New Hampshire and Vermont. Class A becomes Division I, Class B becomes Division II, and so on. Use Roman Numerals to fancy it up, if you’d like.

Adding a fifth class to high school basketball is not the MPA’s worst idea (remember the open tournament?), and while the proposal will likely be tweaked when the basketball committee takes a look, it should pass when the membership votes next spring.

Basketball is the right sport in which to try this experiment. If it works, expand it to soccer, baseball and softball.

Maine has been changing for a while now. This plan recognizes that, and does a good job helping high school basketball catch up with those changes.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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