A proposal to reclassify some of Alaska's high school athletic programs has some Southeast coaches worried about the impact on their teams.
The proposal will create a new fifth size classification for the state's largest schools in basketball and volleyball, plus it will modify the enrollment sizes for the four current classifications. The proposal was introduced last weekend at the Alaska School Activities Association's board of directors quarterly meeting in Anchorage and is scheduled for a vote during ASAA's next quarterly meeting on Feb. 24-26.
"There are some big ramifications," said Sandi Wagner, the Juneau-Douglas High School athletic director and volleyball coach. "It'll definitely change the way we look at things in Southeast."
There are currently 47 schools in Alaska's two largest size classifications -- 20 teams in Class 4A (for enrollments of 401-up) and 27 teams in Class 3A (enrollments of 101-400). Under the new proposal, which takes into account a new school being built in Anchorage, there will be 14 schools in Class 5A (851-up), 12 in Class 4A (301-850) and 22 schools in Class 3A (101-300).
Juneau-Douglas High School, with an enrollment of 1,771, is the only Southeast school thatfalls within the new Class 5A specifications. Ketchikan (656), Sitka (484) and current Class 3A school Mount Edgecumbe (329) will be in Class 4A, while the other current Class 3A schools in Southeast will stay in that classification.
"It would have a big impact on us if they do that," Juneau girls basketball coach Jim Hamey said. "A lot depends on what stipulations they set up, like who has to play who and who has to pay for it. That's been the biggest thing that's kept this from passing in the past has been the costs."
If approved, the earliest the new classifications would take effect is the 2003-04 school year, ASAA executive director Gary Matthews said. The only item on the table right now is whether Alaska needs a fifth size classification, he said. Everything else relating to the changes, such as what conferences teams would be in and how they'd qualify for state, wouldn't be discussed until after the ASAA board passes the proposal to create a fifth classification.
"Everything's open to all ideas, there's nothing hard and fast," Matthews said. "We're just trying to bring it up for discussion."
The proposal came about because of a growing gap in the size of some of the current Class 4A schools, Matthews said. While schools like Ketchikan, Soldotna and Kenai were all about 500-650 in enrollment, there were more schools like Chugiak and Service that were creeping over 2,000 students. Matthews said some of the smaller Class 4A schools were complaining about always struggling whenever they played the larger schools, even though last year saw Kodiak (enrollment 720) upset East Anchorage (1,973) for the boys basketball title and it saw the Sitka boys and Ketchikan girls keep Juneau from sending at least one of its basketball teams to the state tournament for the first time since size classifications were introduced in 1984.
"Most years that doesn't happen, the smaller schools are getting beaten on a year-in, year-out basis," Matthews said.
The lack of detail in the proposal is what worries some of the Southeast coaches. Sitka High athletic director Lyle Sparrowgrove said he worries about losing his school's natural rivalry with Juneau, and he's worried about the proposal's possible costs.
"We'd still have (Mount) Edgecumbe and Ketchikan, but we could lose Juneau and that's been a great rivalry for us," Sparrowgrove said. "And what do we do about fund-raising and money if we're having to travel north a lot more? We spend about $400,000 a year on activities -- we get about $100,000 from the school district and fund-raise the other $300,000. All the other schools are up north and if we have to do more travel, how are we going to pay for it? Our businesses already get hit and hit (for funds)."
"It would definitely impact Southeast, you probably wouldn't have Juneau hosting the Southeast tournament anymore," Juneau boys basketball coach George Houston said.
The money factor also worries Hamey, Wagner and Houston, especially if the Crimson Bears wind up being the only Southeast school in Class 5A.
Juneau's football team is the only Southeast school in the Cook Inlet Football Conference, and the Crimson Bears have a travel budget approaching $100,000 because they not only have to pay for their own trips to Anchorage but in order to join the conference the Crimson Bears had to agree to pay the costs of the visiting team coming to Juneau. Hamey and Houston said their basketball teams typically pay visiting non-Southeast teams $1,500 to $2,500 to come to Juneau, and Wagner said her volleyball team also pays some visiting teams.
Even with the payouts, Juneau still struggles to fill its schedules and both basketball teams are still short games for the upcoming season.
"There would be some rather radical changes for us down here," Houston said. "It would probably be a lot more expensive having to go up north all the time if this goes through. This year's schedule was like pulling teeth with no Novocain. We just couldn't get another team to come down here. We give guarantees for teams to come down here, but we barely get a handshake when we go there."
"I can't say enough about the way the community supports us in our activities, but requiring them to do more would be hard," Wagner said.
Wagner said the Region V (Southeast) activities/athletics directors planned to discuss the proposal during the region's January meeting in Juneau.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.