Prep sports scene set to change: ASAA vote for reclassification will affect Peninsula schools starting in 2012-13

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010

A recent vote by the state activities association will have broad impact on the Kenai Peninsula prep sporting scene starting in the 2012-13 school year.

The board of the Alaska School Activities Association voted 7-1 on Tuesday to adopt a reclassification plan that will have Peninsula schools changing classes in basketball, football, hockey, volleyball and wrestling. Football is the only sport to add a class, with Kenai Central and Soldotna likely candidates to move from small-schools football to newly created medium-schools football.

Gary Matthews, the executive director of ASAA, said the vote puts in place the biggest realignment since the four classifications came into existence in the early 1980s.

According to Matthews, one big impetus for the reclassification came from Homer, Skyview, Houston, Susitna Valley and Nenana.

"They were right at the bottom of their class enrollmentwise and they claimed they were not very competitive," Matthews said.

Another factor was schools around 50 students, Matthews said. With the old cutoff at 50 for Class 1A and 2A, he said these schools were constantly moving up or down a classification.

The cutoff for Class 2A will be moved to 60 students, meaning Peninsula schools Cook Inlet Academy, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik and Seldovia will move from Class 2A to Class 1A.

The Class 1A basketball champion will be decided from amongst 129 schools, while Class 2A will have 18, Class 3A will have 20 and Class 4A will have 20.

Skyview and Homer will be impacted greatly by the reclassification.

Both will have the chance to move to Class 3A in basketball, volleyball and wrestling, joining Peninsula schools Nikiski and Seward in those classifications. Homer also could move to Class 3A in hockey.

Both schools will have the chance to opt up in a certain sport if they want to. Under old rules, if a school opted up in one sport, it had to opt up in every sport. Matthews said ASAA voted at its October meeting to let schools opt up on a sport-by-sport basis.

Since the cutoff for Class 3A and 4A in basketball, hockey, volleyball and wrestling is now 500, Kenai Central and Soldotna will likely remain Class 4A schools in those sports. Matthews said October 2009 enrollment numbers are the latest available, and those numbers put Soldotna at 568 and Kenai at 539. October 2010 enrollment numbers will be used for reclassification, but Matthews said he didn't expect to have all of those until February 2011.

Kenai girls basketball coach and athletic director Stacia Rustad said she is pretty sure Kenai is going to stay with the big schools. Rustad and Soldotna girls coach Mark Tuter both said they are happy they will still get to battle the big schools for state basketball titles.

Galen Brantley Jr., the athletic director and football coach at SoHi, is concerned the newly formed classifications will increase travel expenses for his school because SoHi would no longer play league games against Homer or Skyview.

"To have a school within two miles of us and another less than 100, and not play them, it's financially scary," he said.

Schools have until Feb. 18, 2011, to decide if they will opt up in a sport. New conferences will then be made at the ASAA meeting on Feb. 21 and 22.

It will be interesting to watch how the new three-division football format takes shape.

Currently, Peninsula schools Homer, Skyview, Soldotna, Kenai, Nikiski and Seward play small-schools football. Kenai and Soldotna have won the last nine small-schools titles. Nikiski won the first two.

The new plan has small-schools football at 400 and lower, medium-schools at 401 to 800, and large schools at 801 and larger.

Applying October 2009 enrollment figures, this puts Nikiski (255) and Seward (183) safely into small-schools territory. Homer (422), Skyview (403) and Houston (405) are close to small-schools territory.

If those three go small-schools, Kenai and Soldotna are left with Palmer (798), Kodiak (783), Ketchikan (578) and Thunder Mountain (564) as possible foes for the medium-schools crown.

"The level of competition would be high," Brantley Jr. said.

If a few of those schools opt up and Homer, Skyview and Houston are able to play as small schools, the medium-schools division could get lonely.

"It is what it is," Brantley Jr. said. "There aren't enough schools of our size. We were caught in no man's land."

Brantley Jr. said the football classification system will allow the sport to grow from the small schools up, which is the only way the sport can grow.

"Nikiski won it in 2000 and 2001, and there were only three other years where Greatland teams made it to the championship game," Matthews said of the current small-schools division. "It was time to separate it out so those conferences don't have to play each other in the playoffs. We'll have to wait and see enrollment and who opts up to see how it turns out."

The board made two other big changes at the meeting. Starting next year, there will now be two at-large berths to the Class 4A state basketball tournament. Anchorage and the Northern Lights Conference (Peninsula, Mat-Su and Kodiak) currently each get three state berths.

Each will lose a berth to create the two at-large positions. Those spots will go to the two teams that don't automatically qualify for state and have the highest WPI rating. WPI is put together by ASAA based on a team's record and strength of schedule.

At-large berths are designed to avoid a situation like last season, when, according to Matthews, the Ketchikan boys were No. 2 on the WPI but didn't make state after getting upset by Juneau-Douglas at the conference tournament.

ASAA also voted for a calendar change that will continue the long sojourn of the wrestling schedule, which has never been able to settle since a major shift in the sports calendar in the mid-1990s. The Class 1-2-3A wrestling schedule will stay how it is now, running from September to December.

Class 4A will wrestle from October to the first weekend of February. These changes go into effect next season.

In a more minor change, football and cross-country will now start the first Monday in August as opposed to the last Monday in July.

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