A recent vote for statewide reclassification by the state activities association will radically alter the basketball and volleyball postseason tournaments and conferences for peninsula high schools Kenai, Soldotna, Skyview, Nikiski, Homer and Seward.
Tuesday, the Alaska School Activities Association Board of Directors passed a proposal to reclassify basketball and volleyball starting with the 2004-05 school year.
The vote only affects basketball and volleyball. The conferences, state tournaments and classifications for all other sports will remain exactly the same.
However, peninsula basketball and volleyball fans will see a huge change in how the seasons for those two sports are organized.
In basketball and volleyball, ASAA added a 5A classification for high schools over 850 students. None of the peninsula's high schools are over 850 students. However, the 5A classification forced ASAA to create new conferences that will affect the peninsula's six largest high schools.
Gone is Region III/4A for basketball and volleyball. This conference included Homer, Skyview, Soldotna and Kenai, as well as Kodiak, Palmer, Colony and Wasilla.
Also gone is District 3/3A for basketball and volleyball. This included Nikiski and Seward, as well as Anchorage Christian Schools, Grace, Heritage Christian, Houston and Susitna Valley.
Starting in 2004-05, Homer, Kenai, Skyview, Soldotna and Nikiski will play basketball and volleyball in the new Peninsula Conference.
The six-team Peninsula Conference, which also will include Kodiak, will have three berths to a six-team Class 4A state tournament. The Southern Conference (Mt. Edgecumbe, Ketchikan, Sitka) will get one berth, while the Northern Conference (Eielson, Houston, Monroe, Delta, Barrow) will get two berths.
Seward, meanwhile, will be in Class 3A for volleyball and basketball, breaking a long-standing conference rivalry with Nikiski. The Seahawks will play in the Central Conference with ACS, Grace and Heritage. This conference will get two slots in an eight-team state basketball tournament, and two slots in a six-team state volleyball tournament.
John Andrews, the director of special events at ASAA, said the reclassification was done to give schools in the enrollment range of 400 to 800 students a more equitable shot at competing in the state tournament.
"Obviously, we've done (reclassification) with two other sports -- football and hockey," Andrews said. "We've went from one class to two classes and that's proven extremely successful in both cases."
One example of that success is the Nikiski football program. In 1997, the Bulldogs broke from big-schools football to create the Great Land Football Conference. No longer competing against schools that were bigger than they were, Nikiski had success that former head coach Scott Anderson credited with resurrecting interest in the program.
"I think it will inject new enthusiasm into those programs which have not had very much success in the past qualifying for the state tournament," Andrews said.
Peninsula schools should stand a much better chance of qualifying for state under the new system. The six-team Peninsula Conference gets three state berths, while Region III/4A had three state berths for eight teams. Further, the Peninsula Conference has no school with over 800 students, while Region III/4A has three schools with over 950 students.
In spite of this, Region III representative Doug Bean was one of the dissenting votes in the 6-2 tally that brought about reclassification. Region III is packed with schools from 400 to 800 students.
The flip side of reclassification is the peninsula's basketball and volleyball programs no longer get to compete with the state's big schools for state titles.
Soldotna girls basketball coach Mark Tuter, whose daughter Molly Tuter-Koral was a member of Soldotna's 1993 state championship team, is not happy the Stars will no longer compete against the big schools at state.
Tuter said Soldotna defeated Anchorage schools Service, Dimond, Chugiak and West last year in the regular season.
"Winning a big-schools state championship is a lot more credible than winning a small-schools championship," Tuter said. "Ask anybody who won the state championship last year, and they'll say East, not Nikiski.
"Nikiski has some great ballplayers and a great coach, but that's just the way it is."
Tuter also said the new alignment has things too watered down. In the old system, Class 4A had 20 schools and Class 3A had 26 schools. The new Class 4A system will have 14 schools competing for a state title.
Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid also would rather continue playing against the big schools. Kupferschmid's team finished second at the state volleyball tournament last year.
"I just think it's an incredible motivator to get the opportunity to play these larger schools," Kupferschmid said. "It really gives the kids confidence when we can compete with them, and, at times, beat them.
"That really builds our program."
The new alignment also will affect Nikiski, which had tremendous success under the old system.
For example, Ward Romans has coached girls basketball for 13 years and won six Class 3A state championships.
"I don't understand the pressing need for this change," Romans said. "If there was a pressing need, I would have rather seen two classes instead of five.
"It waters down what we're trying to do with a state tournament, and that's to seek true excellence."
Romans said he knows people will assume he's not happy with the change because it will make it harder for his squad to win state. Nikiski was one of the larger schools in Class 3A, and will be one of the smaller in Class 4A.
But, as proof he simply is not out for an easier state title, Romans said he would prefer two classes to the incoming five-class system, and he would break those two classes at 200 students. That two-class system would make it even harder for Nikiski to win a state tournament than the five-class system will.
"Here's the sad part," Romans said. "Two years ago, Kodiak beat East for the state championship in the greatest high school game I've seen.
"It was a special Hoosier moment that will never happen again, and I think that's sad."
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