Four class basketball proposal passes

(Brad Davis/The Register-Herald) Summers County's Taylor Isaac drives up the court as Parkersburg Catholic's Madeline Huffman defends in the 2019 Class A state tournament in March.

It's official.

After months of speculation, meetings and suggestions, the State Board of Education voted 7-2 in favor of adding a fourth classification to high school basketball in the state of West Virginia on a two-year trial basis Wednesday afternoon in Charleston.

The proposal will become official in mid-September, going into effect at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, with the boys and girls state tournaments that season starting on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.

The proposal and approval come after years of complaints about competitive balance in high school sports in West Virginia. The proposal means the WVSSAC considers several factors when placing a school in a classification, giving each one a score. The score is calculated by enrollment (70 percent), proximity to a county seat (20 percent) and economics and enrollment in each county (10 percent). 

One of the main concerns in circles around the state has been how to handle the perceived advantage private schools, who have dominated the landscape of Class A sports over the last 25 years, have. The proposal, while not directly addressing private schools, but instead addressing it as a competitive balance solution, will likely see several private schools, including Charleston Catholic, Wheeling Central and Huntington St. Joe move up a class.

Class AA schools worried about the influx of private schools may not need to worry. Also going into effect with this proposal will be a rule that allows a school to play up a class in a sport if it so chooses.

In other classifications, Shady Spring, Bluefield, Independence and Oak Hill are a few of the schools likely to comprise the new Class AAA which will help split up the 55 teams currently in Class AA. As such, the new Class AAA will be composed mainly of teams currently in Class AA, not changing the landscape of competition in the class.

One of the local schools that could be impacted the most is Summers County. When an example of what the classifications would look like was released in late 2018, the formula had the Bobcats as a Class A team still, but just barely. Summers County, which graduated 98 seniors in the spring projects to welcome 115 incoming freshmen this fall, potentially tipping the enrollment scale.

In the context of competitive balance, the Lady Bobcats have suffered as much as any program when factoring in private schools.

After dropping to Class A in 2015-2016, Summers County entered the girls state tournament as the No. 1 seed, suffering a blowout loss to Huntington St. Joe in the semifinal. It met the same fate again a year later at the hands of the Lady Irish.  

"I think we have to recognize a lot of fans and coaches that were thinking and talking about competitive balance," Summers County girls basketball coach Chad Meador said. "As a result the WVSSAC put a committee together and came up with a plan. They recognized there was an issue with competitive balance. I think it's a step in the right direction. I think it's good for the kids and players. It's going to allow eight other teams and communities to go to the state tournament and experience the joy of that stage."

Wyoming East, projected to be one of the teams that stays in Class AA, will likely have to face the influx of private schools. 

"I'm not too keen on the change," Wyoming East boys basketball coach Derek Brooks said. "I think private schools have an advantage we don't have. We play tough teams every game, so that's not an issue. From a schedule standpoint I think it makes us weaker though. We play a tough schedule every year. In my opinion Class AA has been the best over the last few years. Chapmanville could take anybody in the state and Fairmont Senior has been the same way. We've played and competed against those teams so the competition doesn't bother us."

The influx of private schools doesn't much bother Brooks' counterpart, Wyoming East girls basketball coach Angie Boninsegna. Her worries lie with the adjustments that take place in the area and with her schedule.

"Anytime you have to adjust, it's always tough," Boninsegna said. "It'll change the landscape of basketball a lot. Some of the teams that are in our section and region now won't be so there will be a realignment there. We'll have to play different opponents and we might have different travel times depending on how it all shakes out. I hope things go well in that aspect."

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