Back in the spring, the Montana High School Association announced that two more Class A schools were dropping to Class B. The latest changes came with Libby and Anaconda, two schools which were once Class AA many years ago.
With those two schools set to leave the Class A ranks for the 2015-16 school year, Class A will be left with just 20 members. And from an athletics standpoint, some changes were going to be needed. However, following Class A meetings held early last week at Fairmont Hot Springs, the changes coming to Montana’s second largest classification may not be as broad and sweeping as initially anticipated.
Many scenarios were on the table at the Class A meetings, including moving some schools around and changing Class A back to three divisions from the existing four. For Havre High School, that would have meant a conference similar to the one that the Blue Ponies were in in the 1990’s, with Browning, Lewistown, Belgrade, Livingston, Butte Central and Dillon. Another idea was to have just two 10-member divisions, an East and West, while ideas also were on the table to possibly merge Class A with some of the larger Class B schools in the state.
However, after three days of discussions, it looks like Class A is pretty much staying where it is, with some changes to how Class A postseasons are conducted in some sports.
“As of right now, everyone is going to stay as is, in our own sub-divisions,” said longtime Havre High activities director Dennis Murphy. “We looked at a lot of different scenarios, there was a lot of discussion, and at the end of the day, we wanted to come up with a solution that was best for everybody. Not very many schools were willing to move. So we worked on how we could minimize the impact on all schools, with things like travel budgets, out-of-school days and scheduling taken into account. And the scenario of everybody staying where they are is what everyone decided on. It’s pending MHSA board approval, and that doesn’t happen until November. But we’re preparing for this to be the plan come the 2015-16 school year.”
The changes to Class A will affect some sports but not all, with many of what are considered the major sports seeing the biggest changes. The exception to that is football. Class A will stay with four divisions and a 12-team playoff for the foreseeable future.
However, boys basketball, girls basketball, volleyball and wrestling will now conduct state tournament qualifying differently.
In 2015-16, Class A will be composed of the Eastern A, with Glendive, Billings Central, Sidney, Miles City, Hardin and Laurel. The Central A is made up of Havre, Lewistown, Browning, Belgrade and Livingston, while the Southwest A is made up of Butte Central, Dillon, Hamilton, Corvallis and Stevensville and the Northwest A has Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Frenchtown and Polson. But instead of those four divisions all playing their own divisional tournaments for the four gymnasium sports, they will combine into two divisional tournaments, with the East and Central getting together and the Northwest and Southwest combining.
For basketball, that means four spots at the state tournament will be on the line at those divisional tournaments, with no more challenge games, as will be the case for volleyball.
Wrestling, which could go to that format for the upcoming school year, pending MHSA approval this summer, will have eight individual spots in each weight class on the line at the two divisional tournaments, while track and field will also be included in the two-division plan.
“Some sports won’t change how the divisional tournament is done, but for basketball, wrestling and volleyball, it will be a little different,” Murphy said. “The divisional tournaments for those sports will be eight-team tournaments, so it will be up to the individual sub-divisions to determine how their four teams qualify for divisonals, whether it be a play-in game or some type of district tournament.
“Sports that will stay as is right now are softball, tennis, cross country, soccer and swimming,” he continued. “Golf is still up for discussion. Again, all this is pending board approval, but this is what we’re going to prepare for.”
So with combined divisionals for the gymnasium sports, as well as track and field, Havre will compete for spots in state tournaments with its fellow Central A members, as well as the Eastern A. That will be something new, and the Blue Ponies haven’t really been a part of that type of divisional since it joined Class A and was a part of the Eastern A back in 1987.
But beyond the changes to basketball, volleyball and track and field, HHS, and the rest of Class A, won’t go through the drastic changes that many thought were coming as more and more schools dropped in enrollment. In recent years, Class A has lost Colstrip, Ronan and Bigfork to Class B, while Libby and Anaconda, two longtime Class A schools, will be gone in one more year.
And as a Class A stalwart, Havre High won’t see too many effects from the coming changes, with the exception of the new East and Central Divisional basketball tournament having a pretty secure home at the Billings Metra, as well as the two biggest powerhouses in Class A wrestling, HHS and Sidney, now competing against each other at the divisional level. Havre, which has always had one of the more severe travel schedules in Class A, will get to keep its scheduling the same as a part of the new plan, and will still be with its longtime Central A counterparts.
“The changes for us (Havre) will be very minimal,” Murphy said. “So we were focused on what is best for everybody in Class A. In this scenario they came up with, nobody has to move to another division, everybody gets to keep the schedules that they have had, and costs hopefully won’t be affected too much. No scenario was going to be ideal for everybody involved, but we tried to come up with a plan that was the best for everybody.”
While there will still be plenty of logistics to work out, particularly where future divisional volleyball, basketball and wrestling tournaments will be held, the first step to the new-look, but much the same, Class A will be for the MHSA to approve the plan. That will take place in November. For the upcoming 2014-15 school year, every sport, with the possible exception of wrestling, will conduct postseason tournaments in the same format that it did this past school year. The possibility of combined divisional wrestling tournaments for the upcoming school year will be voted on this summer.