Some five-class fallout

Portland High School's Liam Dinsmore (left) faces off against Hampden Academy's Jake Black  in the Class A state final on Feb. 28 in Augusta. Hampden won 70-50. Portland will play in Class AA next season and Hampden will stay in Class A. (Troy R. Bennett  BDN)

Portland High School’s Liam Dinsmore (left) faces off against Hampden Academy’s Jake Black in the Class A state final on Feb. 28 in Augusta. Hampden won 70-50. Portland will play in Class AA next season and Hampden will stay in Class A. (Troy R. Bennett BDN)

A few thoughts from the nearly two years spent watching Maine’s high school basketball scene expand from four classes to five …

There’s little doubt Mother Nature will stretch out the new five-class regional tournaments beyond the final days of February vacation at some point during the next few years, if not on a regular basis. Fifty-two games are now scheduled for the Augusta Civic Center, 42 for the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and 38 for the two Portland venues, the Expo and the Cross Insurance Arena. That leaves fewer open sessions for makeup games during tournament week, even with the Class AA quarterfinals being played on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings before the traditional start of tourney week.

But you know what? Sooner or later all the games will still be played with as little intrusion as possible on academic schedules. “There was some conversation about having at least AA start later like we used to many years ago and then go into March,” said Maine Principals’ Association executive director Dick Durost.

“There were a couple of concerns there. No. 1, we work very well with our major sites in Portland, Bangor and Augusta and Bangor, but they’re giving us three weekends as it is and they have other events, whether they’re concerts, flower shows, boat shows, garden shows or other things like that, so we’re probably reaching the point where we’d be asking for more weekends than they might be ready to give us. “Also, we’re attempting to have crossover conversations between the classes (for regular-season scheduling), and if one class is going to continue to play beyond the end of the other seasons then there are lost Heal points there.

“Plus,” Durost added, “we didn’t really hear a strong push from the larger schools to go back to that. I think everybody likes being part of the tournament week excitement, and years ago when we made the change one of the reasons we changed was there was a feeling that their tournament just wasn’t as important (because it wasn’t during tourney week).” …

…. Once tournament sites were determined last Friday, an MPA panel of Portland site representatives considered where to place its games between the two available venues, the Portland Exposition Building and the Cross Insurance Arena, the former Cumberland County Civic Center. Western A and B quarterfinals in recent years have been played at the Expo and the semifinals and regional championship games at the CIA.

“A few years ago when we moved the tourney into February vacation week we moved the quarterfinals into the Expo and there’s been a lot of energy around the idea that the Expo is a good place for basketball, “ said Gary Stevens, athletic administrator at Thornton Academy of Saco. “It has a great atmosphere, the fans are right on top of the action, the kids have enjoyed it and it’s a different experience for them.”

At issue was whether to shift any games from one venue to the other, particularly given that the number of regional tournament games in Portland will increase from 28 to 38 next winter with the addition of Class AA South contests. The panel decided, Stevens said, to leave the schedule alone, with all Portland-based quarterfinals at the Expo and the semifinals and South AA, A and B championship games at the Cross Arena.

“What we ultimately decided was that although the Class B group could probably very easily and comfortably have fit into the Expo venue, we wanted those students to be able to have the same experience that the students from the larger schools have had,” said Stevens. “There’s a value for kids to have that experience of playing in that type of larger environment just as there is for kids from Easton or Jonesport-Beals to play in the Bangor Auditorium or the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. It’s the same thing, just a different scale.”

Stevens added that while the semifinals for the Portland-based regionals are scheduled to start on Wednesday of tournament week, the Expo has been reserved for that day to accommodate any postponed quarterfinals. “That’s the great thing about having two venues,” he said. “We have a built in snow plan.” …

Funny to come across a few people disappointed that Hampden Academy won’t petition up to play Class AA basketball after rolling to the Class A state crown last winter. The rationale is that the Broncos’ boys team team is expected to return every player from last year’s club that not only secured the program’s second Class A state championship in the last three years, but won the state final by 20 points.

So, the thought goes, it’s a step down for the Broncos to remain in Class A while larger schools move up to AA. The fact is that Hampden merely will be playing in the classification designated by its enrollment — as will 2015 Class A girls’ state champion Lawrence of Fairfield, which also will return a solid nucleus led by Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team center Nia Irving.

For the Broncos’ boys squad to petition up to Class AA would require the school girls’ team to make a similar move, and while that youthful team has a successful 2015 season — falling at the buzzer of their regional quarterfinal to Bangor — there’s no competitive reason for that team to play up. Any school moving up also does so for at least two years, and four of the returning starters from Hampden’s Class A state championship team will graduate in June 2016, leaving an uncertain roster for the second year of that two-year cycle.

Perhaps more to the point, were these same folks similarly clamoring for the boys team at Valley of Bingham to play up three or four years into its six-year run of Class D state championships around the turn of the century? Or what about Jonesport-Beals when it was winning five in a row during the early ‘70’s? Or the current Washburn girls’ basketball program, which will take its string of five straight Class D state championships into next winter?

The only difference is that Hampden already has defeated the best of the class that will be above it next winter. The truth is as long as the Broncos are competing in the class they’re supposed to be in under the same rules as everybody else, it’s really up to the other schools to elevate their own games. …

If any tweaks are forthcoming to the newly created format, the first likely will be to eliminate the directional designations from the classes in all MPA-sanctioned sports and label them some other way. After all, is having Portland, Cheverus or Deering high schools listed in the North region as they will be for basketball and football next season any less geographically whacked than having coastal Bucksport in the West for wrestling and neighboring Searsport in the West for basketball?

Portland, Cheverus and Deering are at least more northern basketball schools compared to the majority of their new Class AA brethren, but like many Eastern- and Western-designated programs before them they don’t pass the DeLorme test. Feel free to joining the prospective naming contest. How about Dirigo and Pine Tree? Or Maine and Other Maine?

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.