The Maine Principals’ Association accepted a proposal Friday that moves the boys’ and girls’ Class AA North tournaments from Augusta to Portland and increases the number of qualifying teams.

Class AA would still include North and South regional tournaments, but the semifinals and championship games would be played at Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena. Quarterfinal games will be played at the site of higher-seeded team. For the last two years, the Class AA North tournament has been played at the Augusta Civic Center.

“I want to commend the 17 (Class AA) schools for being able to come up with something they all can live with,” said Dick Durost, the executive director of the MPA. “By the same token, the basketball committee voted unanimously to accept the proposal. Everyone is trying to do right by the kids.”

Joe Russo, coach of two-time defending Class AA state champion Portland, applauded the move. The Bulldogs have played in Augusta the last two years, often in late starts and in front of sparse crowds.

“That’s awesome,” he said. “The ones who are going to benefit are going to be the family and fans. They’re the ones who really missed out. The players will play anywhere and they don’t care what time the game starts. Once the ball is tossed up, it didn’t matter if it was midnight or 2 in the morning, they were going to play.

“Now, not only are you guaranteed a better crowd, but the people who supported you are going to be able to go to the game too.”

The proposal was crafted by the 17 Class AA schools in response to a request by the MPA to come up with a plan that was fair to all schools. The majority of Class AA schools play in the Portland area, with the exceptions of Oxford Hills, Edward Little, Lewiston and Bangor.

The proposal stipulates that eight schools, or 66 percent of the region (whichever is greater), will qualify for the tournament. The last two years only six teams qualified. Quarterfinal games will be played at the site of the higher-seeded teams.

By qualifying eight teams, it eliminates the bye that the top two seeds endured the last two years, often going 12 days between games. It also allows Bangor – the school with the greatest travel costs – to potentially host a quarterfinal game. “It’s an acknowledgment of Bangor’s geographic uniqueness,” said Gary Stevens, the athletic director at Thornton Academy in Saco.

The North and South semifinals and championship games will be held at Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena. No site has been set for the Class AA state championship games.

The schools felt it important to maintain the regional tournaments. “It’s meaningful to the community, to a group of students,” said Stevens. “You’re playing for a title.”

Mike Murphy, the coach of the Deering girls’ basketball team, which played in Augusta, agreed. “It gives the kids a shot at least at one side, no matter who it is,” he said.

Everyone involved praised the process for making the switch. Gary Hoyt, the athletic director at Cheverus, made the presentation to the MPA’s Basketball Committee on Friday morning.

“It was nice to see the reception to our proposal was professional and receptive,” he said. “They gave us an opportunity to present a solution to the issue. They reviewed the solution and agreed.”

Attendance was down in the Class AA tournament games this year. But Durost said the decision was not based only on attendance.

“The attendance was down, particularly in the North region in Augusta,” he said.

“But I don’t think we’re looking at it as much form a money standpoint, especially when we’re giving them the opportunity to do quarterfinals at the higher seed.

“It will just be better for kids and for fans. It’s certainly worth trying for the next two-year cycle. If we feel it needs tweaking, we will revisit it. I think this is a positive step.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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