The Oceanside High School boys’ basketball team defeated Belfast Area High School by a whopping 88 points in a Class B boys’ basketball game on Jan. 17, and the floodgates of public opinion have burst open on numerous forums over the last week.

Many commentators have complained that the lopsided score is just another example of poor sportsmanship in youth sports. Many others have claimed that the outcry over the one-sided score is just the latest example of “participation trophy” culture run amok.

What has rarely been mentioned, though, is that these two basketball programs probably shouldn’t even be playing against each other in the first place, and that the classification system of high school athletic programs needs to shift from an outdated model that primarily emphasizes school enrollment to a model of classification based on the actual performance of individual athletic programs.

According to the Maine Department of Education, Oceanside High School’s enrollment during the 2022-2023 school year (the most recent data available) was 526 students, and Belfast Area High School’s enrollment during the same school year was 496 students. So from the traditional perspective of grouping athletic programs based on school enrollment, it makes sense for Oceanside’s boys’ basketball program to be classified as a Class B South program and for Belfast’s boys’ basketball program to be classified as a Class B North program.

But when it comes to the actual on-court performance of both programs, each program has experienced divergent levels of success over the last few years as Class B boys’ basketball teams: Since the start of the 2021-2022 season Oceanside has compiled a 42-5 regular season record through Jan. 21, and Belfast has compiled a 4-44 regular record over the same time period.

So even though it would appear both high schools should be matched up pretty evenly based on enrollment in their classrooms, their boys’ basketball programs’ past performances clearly indicate they most likely won’t match up evenly on the basketball court.


Now, achieving some level of competitiveness and parity in Maine high school athletics has been an ongoing discussion across a variety of sports in recent years. And there have been numerous ideas, debates, and possible solutions offered. The most straightforward, predictable, and effective solution would be to require promotion and relegation after each season, which is the norm in international soccer (and other international sports) when determining appropriate levels of competition.

For those of us not caught up on our Ted Lasso, promotion and relegation can be simply summed up this way: Classification is based on on-court performance, and a team’s classification is based on their most recent level of performance. At the end of each season the top-level performers in a particular class are promoted to the next-highest level of competition, while the bottom-level performers in that class are relegated to the next-lowest level competition.

Specific to this situation, Oceanside would be classified as a Class A South team this season, thanks to their appearance in the Class B state championship last season. And Belfast would be classified as a Class C North program this season, due to the fact that they finished in last place in the Class B North last season.

A Class A program, of course, likely wouldn’t be scheduling a Class C program for a regular season matchup. And instead of putting hard-working administrators, coaches, and student-athletes in the crosshairs of a Rorschach battle related to our country’s ongoing culture wars, both programs would most likely be playing against opponents better suited to their respective levels of performance.

After all, the best way to try to calibrate on-court performance would be to classify schools based on, well, on-court performance.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.