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George Ferguson Column: Minor tweaks in Class A should be refreshing and exciting for fans

From the Fringe...


As the head tennis coach at Havre High School, I obviously have a vested interest in any changes coming to Class A. But if tennis weren’t in my life, I’d still have the same vested interest.

And that’s why I find the proposed changes to some of the structure to Class A, which, if approved by the Montana High School Association, will take place in the 2015-16 school year, fascinating.

It’s become plainly obvious that change is needed. Class A is down to a mere 20 schools, and when compared to Class B and C, the numbers aren’t close. As divisions, Class A has dwindled to just four members in the Northwest A and five in the Southwest and Central A. The East has six, but even that’s a far cry from 20 years ago, when there were three divisions in Class A, each eight teams strong.

And while initially, going back to three divisions seemed like the most logical choice, the East would have stayed at six teams while the Central and West would have had seven. Travel would have surely become an even bigger issue for schools like Havre and Browning, as well as schools like Dillon, Hamilton and Corvallis, while the East would have remained intact, with travel budgets virtually unfazed.

So while the idea of putting much of the old Central A back together seemed intriguing to me initially, I think the new plan of having the four divisions become sub-divisions, and two divisional tournaments for basketball, volleyball and wrestling does indeed seem more appealing.

For one thing, imagine being at the Billings Metra as Havre High takes on Glendive or Billings Central with a berth in the Class A state basketball tournament on the line. That sounds pretty exciting to me. Imagine that same tournament coming to Great Falls sometime in the future, or imagine Havre and Sidney grapplers battling each other for divisional championships and No. 1 seeds at the state tournament. Havre and Sidney in the same divisional wrestling tournament? If you’re a fan of that sport, it doesn’t get much better.

Another reason I like the proposed plan is that, while football and most of the Olympic sports remain unchanged, Havre’s localized basketball and volleyball schedule will also remain intact. The Blue Ponies won’t have to drop rivalry basketball games against the likes of Rocky Boy, Fairfield or Malta to accommodate what would have been four more Central A games had Butte Central and Dillon become part of the Central A. Volleyball will get to keep important proximity matches like Conrad and Choteau on its schedule, and other sports will have their schedules and current divisional tournaments intact as well.

Now, some might argue that if Havre is going to have to play Glendive or Sidney or Hardin at the divisional basketball and volleyball tournaments, than they should play them in the regular season. But that’s not needed, and it’s not the way it works in Class B and C. Essentially, Class A, at least in basketball, volleyball and track and field, are going to more of a district format even if that’s not what it’s called.

And in Class B and C, which does have district formats, there aren’t always games during the regular season between divisional opponents. The Northern C, one of the most successful Class C divisions in Montana is a good example of that. North Star and Belt might not meet in the regular season, yet they could very well face off at the Northern C basketball or volleyball tournament if each team makes it that far, and neither is at a disadvantage. Even in the Northern B Division, where teams are in a decent proximity from one another, some don’t see each other until the divisional tournament. And in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that. And there won’t be anything wrong with Havre facing the Billings Central Rams in a divisional basketball or volleyball tournament with that being their first meeting of the year. Again, neither team has an edge or a disadvantage in that scenario.

No, the idea of two divisional tournaments for basketball, volleyball and wrestling seems refreshing and exciting. The Blue Ponies will spawn new rivalries, while keeping their old ones against the likes of Belgrade, Browning, Lewistown and Livingston alive.

The idea that change is coming without completely upsetting the entire landscape of Havre High, the Central A and Class A athletics seems very appealing to me. Because believe me, with some of the ideas that were on the table at the recent Class A meetings, the landscape of Havre High athletics, and Class A as a whole could have changed pretty drastically.

Instead, the Class A admins did something I wasn’t expecting. They came up with a way to maintain some normalcy and consistency for all of those involved. Instead of blowing up Class A and starting over, they used tweaks and subtle changes mixed with leaving things the way they were for the existing 20 members of what is the second smallest classification in Montana high school sports.

I’m not afraid of change, and I would have probably welcomed some drastic changes if that’s what would have been decided. But fixing something that isn’t necessarily broke isn’t the best idea, and I don’t think Class A was broke, I think it needed to be adjusted.

And Class A, because of enrollment changes across Montana, did need some adjusting. But for the most part, it will be business as usual in 2015-16, with some refreshing and exciting new twists. To me, that was the best solution that could have come out of the Class A meetings last week. To me, Class A as a whole, seems to have got it right.

We’ll find out for certain in two years.


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