Making Moves: Class A set to re-align

Old Central A is over; In 2019-2020 Havre High will be part of the Northeast A


December 6, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre's Cassidy Acor, middle, goes up for a smash during an Eastern A preseason volleyball match against Miles City back in August. Starting next fall, Havre and Miles City will be conference foes in the new Northeast A Conference. The conference will see Havre compete against Miles City, Glendive, Lewistown and Sidney, while the other half of the Eastern A is composed of Billings Central, Laurel, Hardin and Livingston in the Southeast. New schools Lockwood and East Helena will eventually be a part of the Southeast A as well.

The state of Montana is ever-changing, and Class A schools in the Treasure State continue to change with it.

At the last Montana High School Association Executive Board meeting, another re-alignment to Class A was proposed, and should become official in January.

The re-alignment of Class A schools became necessary once it was announced that two new schools are being built, and both will be Class A when they open in the fall of 2019. The two new Class A high schools will be, Lockwood High School in Billings and East Helena High School.

And those two new schools, along with Belgrade moving up to Class AA next year, had a direct effect on not only Class A, but also Havre High.

Havre has been a part of the Central A Conference in sports for many, many years now, but with Browning moving to the Northwest A last year, and now with Belgrade leaving the Central A, and two new schools coming into the eastern half of Class A, the Central A will cease to exist.

Instead, starting with the 2019-20 school year, Havre will be a part of the new Northeast A, which essentially is the conference Havre was a part of when it moved to Class A in 1987. The Northeast A will be composed of Havre, Lewistown, Miles City, Glendive and Sidney. The Southeast A will be made up of Billings Central, Hardin, Laurel, Livingston and both East Helena and Lockwood when they come on line with varsity sports, which isn't scheduled to happen for three years. Both new schools are planning on having JV-only sports the first couple of years.

Of course, more recently, the Eastern A and Central A combined to form one football conference, as well as divisional tournaments for boys and girls basketball, volleyball, wrestling, track and field, and golf, and under the new alignment, those combined Eastern A divisional tournaments will remain.

So while some things are changing, some are also staying the same, but no doubt, Class A sports are seeing some interesting times recently, with schools dropping down to Class B, then the likes of Libby and Ronan coming back up again. And, in just one year, Class A will be set to have 23 schools.

"I think you've seen two things happen that allowed for these changes," Havre High Activities Director Dennis Murphy said. "One, you had the law that was passed that allowed elementary school districts to build their own high schools. That's what happened in the case of Lockwood and East Helena. And, the second thing was, we (MHSA) lowered the enrollment numbers for Class A schools. So that brought some schools back up and really stabilized things for Class A."

Indeed. The Class A enrollment threshold is now at 337 according to the MHSA, and that meant schools like Libby and Ronan, who spent either one or two years in Class B, could come back to Class A, which they both did last school year.

Both Libby and Ronan are in the Northwest A currently, and under the new re-alignment in Class A, nothing much is changing for the west. The Northwest A will continue to be composed of Libby, Ronan, Polson, Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Browning, while the Southwest A is made up of Butte Central, Hamilton, Stevensville, Corvallis, Dillon and Frenchtown.

Yet, while the re-alignment of Class A will go into effect next school year, and Class A seems to be stable for the moment, it doesn't mean more changes aren't on the horizon. Schools like Glendive, Dillon, Butte Central, Billings Central and Lewistown are near the Class B enrollment threshold, while other schools like Bigfork, Manhattan and Anaconda are close to the Class A threshold. Both Bigfork and Anaconda have been Class A before.

"There are some schools that have the numbers that they could end up going down to Class B eventually," Murphy said. "And there a few schools on the watch list that could eventually come up."

For now though, Class A is looking strong as far as schools and the sports those schools participate in, and with the proposed re-alignment, Havre will have some new rivals and new road trips to take.

Starting next school year, Havre will play Sidney, Miles City and Glendive both home and away in basketball, volleyball and softball, as well as continuing its conference rivalry with Lewistown. In football, the Eastern A will continue to all play each other, though as of right now, it will be an eight-game schedule instead of nine, since Belgrade will be in Class AA. Schedules for wrestling, cross country, swimming, track and field, and tennis shouldn't change much, though tennis and softball will continue to be the two sports that won't play a full Eastern A divisional tournament. Those two sports will continue to have conference-only divisional tournaments with just the Ponies, Miles City, Glendive and Lewistown in tennis, and Havre, Miles City, Glendive, Lewistown and Sidney for softball. Sidney is one of four Class A schools that currently doesn't offer tennis.

So Havre sports fans, this winter and spring will likely be the last time you'll see or hear the term Central A. And starting next year, the Blue Ponies will have some new friends in their new conference.

Note: The last MHSA board meeting also approved several other changes in alignment, including Box Elder being allowed to drop back down to Six-Man football. The Bears have played eight-man in the Northern C the last two seasons. Also, next year will be a major change in the Class B ranks as Great Falls Central moves up from Class C. GFCC will still play 8-man football but will be in the District 1B for all other sports.

2019-20 Class A

(Spring 2018 Enrollment according to MHSA)

Northeast A

Havre (505)

Lewistown (343)

Glendive (359)

Miles City (517)

Sidney (387)

Southeast A

Billings Central (325)

Hardin (481)

Laurel (615)

Livingston (430)

Lockwood (NA)

East Helena (NA)

Southwest A

Butte Central (132)

Hamilton (471)

Dillon (302)

Corvallis (495)

Stevensville (382)

Frenchtown (405)

Northwest A

Columbia Falls (612)

Polson (458)

Ronan (330)

Libby (342)

Browning (558)

Whitefish (476)


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