ROCKPORT — The Maine Principals’ Association approved the most sweeping change to high school basketball in generations Thursday, expanding the annual postseason tournaments to five enrollment classes.

As a result, two more teams – one girls’ and one boys’ – will get to hoist the Gold Ball awarded to state champions.

While expansion is expected to enhance competitive balance among the 138 schools that field varsity basketball teams, it also will present challenges for scheduling and transportation.

The measure was approved during the MPA’s annual spring conference at the Samoset Resort in Rockport. The general membership vote was expected to be close, but it passed 67 to 29.

“I feel the kids are the winners today,” said Boothbay Region High Principal Dan Welch.

The change will take effect for the 2015-16 school year. Before the vote, an amendment to delay implementation for at least one year was defeated.

Maine has held boys’ basketball championships in four enrollment classes since the mid-1950s, and for girls since 1975. There have been discussions about expanding to five classes for at least a decade, but the expansion proposal took shape this winter as the five-class structure was debated, tweaked and approved by a series of MPA subcommittees before Thursday’s general membership vote.

“The vote was a solid statement from the members,” said Gerry Durgin, an associate director of the MPA. “I don’t think you can argue with the process.”


The push for five classes came from the state’s smallest schools, especially those in northern Maine that have seen years of declining enrollments. The population of Aroostook and Washington counties dropped by about 3 percent from 2000 to 2010, according U.S. Census figures. High school administrators across the state saw the need to enhance competitive balance.

“In the last 10 years there’s been an exodus out of the north to the south,” Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens said last week. “A lot of those schools that had 300 (students) are now 100.”

Starting next year, the five basketball classes will be: Double-A (high schools with at least 825 students); A (545-824 students); B (325-544); C (131-324); and D (130 or fewer). The cutoff for the smallest enrollment class had been 189 students.

Another change for next year: Regions within each class will become North and South instead of East and West.

While expansion may benefit the state’s smallest schools, the impact will be felt across the state. Among the biggest challenges will be regular-season scheduling. Many schools will be separated from traditional league rivals, and some will be forced to travel farther to play games.

“I was a little surprised it passed so easily,” said Greely Athletic Director David Shapiro, who voted in favor of five classes. “It’s going to be interesting how we’re going to set our schedules.”

Greely moves from Western Maine Class B to Class A South. The Rangers will compete against Westbrook, Marshwood, Biddeford, Falmouth, Brunswick and Mt. Ararat – schools that had been in the largest enrollment class – as well as some of their traditional rivals such as Cape Elizabeth.

Bangor High may face the biggest challenges in scheduling. The Rams’ closest basketball opponent in Double-A would be 107 miles away in Lewiston. That class also would feature the largest schools in southern Maine, along with Oxford Hills in South Paris and Edward Little in Auburn.


Jonathan Spear, the athletic director at Richmond High, voted against the five-class proposal because he was “worried about the ability to field a schedule.”

But Gordie Salls, Sanford’s athletic director, said his vote was more about creating a level playing field than about scheduling challenges. “The schedules always get done,” he said.

Chris Hughes, the athletic director at Sacopee Valley in South Hiram, voted against the proposal. He said his school draws from five communities and expressed concern about a good portion of his students not being able to participate in athletics because of the distances they have to travel to get home. With an enrollment of 355, Sacopee Valley will be the smallest school in Class B South.

Expansion also creates challenges to fit in a fifth postseason tournament. Basketball committees from the three tournament sites – Bangor, Augusta and Portland – will meet May 8 at MPA headquarters in Augusta to map out tournament plans for all five classes.