The Maine high basketball tournament could take on a new look next winter, with quarterfinal games involving schools in the largest enrollment division being played in arenas rather that at the gym of the higher seed. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Major shifts could be coming to high school basketball enrollment classes starting next winter, according to a proposal sent to schools Friday by the Maine Principals’ Association.

Under the proposal, the sport would remain divided into five classes for both boys and girls – but the largest enrollment class would expand by nearly 50 percent, from 17 schools to 25.

The enrollment cutoff for the largest class would drop from 800 to 701. Teams moving up would include Marshwood, Kennebunk and Biddeford in the South, and Brewer, Skowhegan, Mt. Ararat, Brunswick and Messalonskee in the North.

The proposed changes, unanimously approved by members in attendance at the MPA Basketball Committee meeting on Thursday, would take effect for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years. The proposal will be voted on by the MPA’s Classification Committee next Thursday, and with approval would be sent to the Interscholastic Management Committee for a vote on Jan. 26. The proposal would be finalized at the MPA’s annual spring meeting at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.

The names of the enrollment classes would change under the proposal. The plan does away with Class AA for the largest schools, a designation established ahead of the 2015-16 season. Instead, there would be Classes A, B, C and D, all divided into North and South regions. A new class not divided by regions, Class S, would be for schools with enrollments below 100, comprising most of the schools in the current Class D.

Among schools that would move up to the largest class, Marshwood would be the smallest in Class A South with an enrollment of 702, while Brewer (703) would be the smallest in A North.


Rich Buzzell, Marshwood’s athletic director, said he has always been concerned that the enrollment gap between the smallest and largest schools in the “big school” division is proportionally much greater than in the other enrollment divisions.

“What’s Lewiston’s enrollment? Over 1,500?” said Buzzell, who added that his school will not appeal the change. “We’re dealing with an 800-kid difference. That’s a pretty big top-to-bottom differential.”

Skowhegan Athletic Director Brian Jones voiced similar concerns.

“I’m not keen on the idea us being a school of 707 and being in with schools in the 1,500s, the 1,100s,” Jones said. “I’m not sure whether we will petition or whether we will stay put. I need to talk to my coaches and see what we want to do. But this is not a change I look too favorably upon. The disparity between the schools is just too large.”

The new Class B would have 33 schools with an enrollment of 401-700, Class C would have 22 schools between 251 and 400 students, and Class D’s 32 schools would be between 101 and 250.



Mike Burnham, executive director of the MPA, said one reason for the proposed changes is the current Class AA format, which has eight teams in the South and nine in the North. Class AA teams play quarterfinal games at the home of the higher seed, while the other classes play their quarterfinals at the Portland Expo, Augusta Civic Center or Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Under the new format, Class A South teams would play all regional tournament games in Portland, and Class A North teams would play in Augusta.

“There was a bit of a general feeling that, with (fewer teams in Class AA) and not playing at the tournament site, that it somehow wasn’t the same experience that maybe the other four classes were experiencing,” Burnham said.

Bonny Eagle Athletic Director Eric Curtis, a member of the basketball committee, agreed that the lack of Class AA quarterfinals at arenas has been a concern.

“That’s been talked about amongst the AA schools for a few years now,” Curtis said. “It just doesn’t feel like a playoff atmosphere. … We’ve been fortunate to host boys’ and girls’ quarterfinal games over the last couple of years, and I think it’s been a great experience. But I do think that playing at Bonny Eagle High School versus the Expo or something is a big difference for schools.”

There was mixed reaction among other coaches and administrators from schools that would move into the largest enrollment class.


“Obviously, there are some concerns, and we will address them,” Messalonskee Athletic Director Chad Foye. “I have to wrap my head around this proposal, take a look at it a little closer and come up with some ideas.”

Kennebunk’s girls’ basketball coach, Rob Sullivan, said he’s in favor of the plan. The Rams would be in Class A South.

“I know the competition for us is going to be much, much harder,” he said. “But when I started at Kennebunk in the mid-’90s, Western A was 21, 22 teams, and it included Lewiston, Edward Little, Oxford Hills. I always thought back then, when you made the tournament, that was a real big deal.”

Another key factor in the proposed changes, Burnham said, was the current Class D, which has seen its South region shrink to nine teams.

“We would have had to raise the Class D cutoff significantly to get enough schools in the South to hold a Class D tournament, and that would have had implications on Class D North,” Burnham said. “With the small school division, those schools competing against each other … it allows us to not only have the small schools, but a very competitive small school championship.”

Forest Hills Athletic Director Anthony Amero, whose school currently competes in Class D South, said he would welcome a new Class S.


“I think it’s fantastic for small schools,” said Amero, who is also the school’s boys’ basketball coach. “It addresses the problem moving forward with a lot of us D schools facing shrinking enrollments. This keeps us in a competitive field with schools with similar issues. This is a good thing for small schools across the state.”

The MPA proposal also could bring back more conference identity, Kennebunk’s Sullivan said. Currently, the Southwestern Maine Activities Association has its teams scattered, with teams in AA North, AA South and A South. With the new format, Class A South would be entirely SMAA teams, and Class A North would be entirely Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference teams. The Western Maine Conference, which currently has teams in three classes, would have 10 of 13 teams in B South.

“I think the fewer classes will encourage conferences to play more conference games, because the chances are the majority of the conference will be in the same class,” Sullivan said. “To me, that’s what basketball needs. … There’s nothing like that atmosphere when you get a good rivalry game, the pace of the game, a packed gym. I’m hoping it gets it back to that on a regular basis.”

The flip side is that it will be harder for Kennebunk to make the postseason, but Sullivan doesn’t see that as a negative.

“Making it to the tournament with the Portlands and South Portlands and Cheveruses and schools like that, that’s going to be a good achievement for us,” he said. “It’s something for our kids to be excited about.”

Bill Stewart of Central Maine Newspapers and Steve Craig of the Press Herald contributed to this report.

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