AUGUSTA, Maine — A nearly two-year push to update the state’s high school basketball environment achieved a final step Friday as a Maine Principals’ Association panel approved regional tournament sites for the five-class format set to be implemented next winter.

The Maine Principals’ Association’s Basketball Plenary Committee, which includes tournament committee members from around the state, voted 8-4 for a plan that maintains the status quo for the existing four classes while placing regional tournaments for the newly created Class AA that encompasses the state’s largest schools in Augusta and Portland.

The Class AA North tourney will be at the Augusta Civic Center, while the Class AA South quarterfinals will be at the Portland Exposition Building with the semifinals and championship games at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

Tournaments for the other four classes will remain in their current locales, with Classes B, C and D North at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Class A North and Classes C and D South at the Augusta Civic Center, and Classes A and B South in Portland with quarterfinals at the Expo and subsequent rounds at the Cross Arena.

The five-class format will place 52 regional tournament games covering four classes in Augusta next February, with 42 games covering three classes in Bangor and 38 games covering three classes in Portland. That compares with 42 games in both Bangor and Augusta and 28 games in Portland in 2015.

The specific tournament schedule for each class will be made final at the committee’s next meeting set for Oct. 29.

“We had to look at what’s going to work for the most people and what’s going to cause the least inconvenience for the greatest number of schools and communities,” said Maine Principals’ Association Executive Director Dick Durost. “While there was no perfect way to do that, I think the classes ended up being where they needed to be.”

The new five-class tournament will conclude on Saturday at the end of February vacation week with state championship games slated for the following weekend.

But the tournament will kick off earlier than before, with Class AA quarterfinal doubleheaders in Augusta and Portland on Wednesday and Thursday nights before the traditional tournament week schedule begins Friday.

The front-loading of the Class AA quarterfinals is designed, Durost said, to provide the greatest amount of flexibility later during tourney week.

“Particularly in Augusta, we needed to look at a way to fit in 10 more games in what would have been roughly the same time period,” he said. “We know Mother Nature isn’t always as nice to us as we would like her to be, so there was a conversation around playing Wednesday evening and Thursday evening particularly since there are no play-in games in Class AA and to wait any longer than that would leave them sitting around for more than a week without any games.

“This schedule allows those sites to get in a few of those games early and take some of the pressure off later on with the additional classes. It’s still going to be tight, particularly in Augusta where I think they’re looking at three eight-game days, but I think this is the best approach to get all those games in,” he said.

Those Class AA quarters can be fit in on those two evenings for a couple of reasons.

With just six teams qualifying for postseason play in both the North and South, no play-in contests are required. And with just two quarterfinals per gender per region, there are half the number of Class AA quarterfinals as there are in Classes A, B, C and D.

“I think it will generate some excitement right out of the gate,” said Ryan Wilkins, chair of the Augusta tournament committee and principal of the Hartford-Sumner Elementary School.

The issue most discussed by the committee — although fairly briefly — was where to place the Class AA North regional.

That division will consist of three Portland schools — Portland High, Cheverus and Deering — and Windham, along with Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference members Bangor, Edward Little of Auburn, Lewiston and Oxford Hills of South Paris.

Those KVAC teams have played in regionals at the Augusta Civic Center since 2006, while the Portland schools haven’t had to leave their home city for regional play during that time span, setting the stage for a potential North-South tug of war.

Committee members ultimately supported the notion that if there are to be two regional tournaments for Class AA, they should be held in different locales, with Bangor High School’s locale some 2½ hours north of the Portland venues another contributing factor.

“With Class AA, there was going to be no perfect solution,” Durost said.

Bangor High officials, who did not attend the meeting, supported a decision that won’t require their teams to bypass both the Bangor and Augusta tournament sites to play a regional 130 miles away in Portland.

“I think it’s something the committee took a long, hard look at,” said Steve Vanidestine, Bangor athletic administrator. “I believe they came up with a solution that’s fair and equitable and represents all kids.”

The panel also established state championship game sites for the next two seasons. In 2016, the Class B finals will be in Bangor, the C and D games will be in Augusta, and the AA and A games will be in Portland.

The AA and A games will be in Augusta in 2017, with the C and D games in Bangor, and the B game in Portland.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...