AUGUSTA — A proposal to expand Maine high school basketball from four to five classes moved a step closer to reality Wednesday when the Maine Principals’ Association’s Classification Committee approved it by a 7-1 vote.

The next step in the process will come in March when the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee votes on the proposal. If passed, it would be sent to the general membership for final approval at the MPA’s spring conference in late April. The switch would take effect for the 2015-16 season.

The proposal would create classes called 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A and 5A. All but 1A, which would include the largest schools in the state, would be divided into north and south regions.

Class 1A would include schools with enrollments of more than 824 students; 2A would include schools between 824-545; 3A, 544-325; 4A, 324-121; and 5A, 120 and fewer.

Shrinking enrollments at schools in northern Maine and growing enrollments at some southern Maine schools brought a need to restructure “a more even playing field,” said Classification Committee chairman Bunky Dow, the athletic director at Mt. Desert Island High.

In the current four-tier format, a large gap exists between the largest and smallest schools in some classes. In Eastern Class D, Stearns is the largest school with 185 students and Highview Christian in Charleston is the smallest with 25. Under the proposal, Valley would be the largest school in 5A South with 71 students; A.R. Gould would be the smallest with 46.

In Western Class A, Thornton Academy is the largest school with 1,384 students while Kennebunk — not counting Cheverus, which applies up every two years — is the smallest with 715.

Under the new proposal, in 1A Thornton is projected to be the largest school with 1,422 students while Gorham would be the smallest with 838. Kennebunk, Brunswick, Marshwood and Biddeford, now Class A, would move to 2A.

“I think it’s time for five classes,” said MPA Executive Director Richard Durost.

The committee also approved changing the Heal point differential from five points for each class to two points. Currently, wins against Class A teams are worth 40 points, 35 points against Class B teams, 30 against Class C and 25 against Class D. Under the proposal, the Heal point differentials would be 40, 38, 36, 34 and 32.

Doran Stout, the athletic director at Erskine Academy, representing the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, proposed no point differential.

“It would make for more equitable scheduling for our teams,” he said.

Stout said the KVAC has 29 teams, comprising Class A, B and C schools. The league would have four 1A schools — Bangor, Edward Little, Lewiston and Oxford Hills — under the five-class proposal. Stout said if those schools didn’t cross over and play SMAA teams, they could have difficulty accumulating Heal points. With no point differential, the largest schools wouldn’t be reluctant to play 2A schools, he said.

Mark Babin, the athletic director at Nokomis High in Newport, cast the lone vote against the proposal. Babin likes the format but didn’t agree with the two-point Heal point differential. He favors no differential.

Gardiner boys basketbal coach Jason Cassidy said he has concerns with a five-class system as well.

“I’m not a big fan of it,” he said. “We’re trying to build a tradition here at Gardiner. We’ve come into KVAC B and established some real good rivalries and developed a little bit of history. We’ve been able to compete in Class B and I really like that. I think it hurts our program a little bit to think we’re gong to go back to playing some of the schools that have been traditional basketball schools that are a little bit bigger than us. We’ve kind of enjoyed being the higher enrollment team. We’re still kind of on this three-year cycle where we’re good for a year and then average for a couple We’re looking to get it to where we’re loaded every year. That’s not going to help us.”

Said Dow of the committee passing the two-point differential: “I think it will ease peoples’ concerns.”

It also might be easier to pass by the full membership.

The committee also set the enrollment cutoff numbers for the five classes.

“We have to have a backup plan,” said Gerry Durgin, the MPA liaison to the Classification Committee. “If this is voted down by the membership in April, we will go back to the four classes.”

So what would the tournaments look like? The sites would still be Portland, Augusta and Bangor.

Durost said the tournament setup is very tenative, but Bangor would remain the site for northern teams; Augusta would host a combination of northern and southern teams; and Portland would host southern teams.

“We will look at some combination of three tournaments at each of the three sites,” he said.

The Classification Committee also set enrollment cutoff numbers for Class A field hockey, skiing, tennis and softball. The numbers for other sports had been set earlier.

Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at

[email protected]

Twitter: TomChardPPH

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