A collaborative effort among the Maine Principals’ Association, America East and the Cross Insurance Arena will bring the 2018 Class AA and Class A state championship high school basketball games to Portland in March.

Maine’s high school postseason schedule for the sport, including state finals in all five classes, was approved Thursday by the MPA’s basketball committee.

There had been some question about the availability of the Cross Insurance Arena on state championship weekend because the facility also is scheduled to host the America East women’s basketball quarterfinals and semifinals on Saturday, March 3, and Sunday, March 4.

But America East agreed to revise its practice schedule in Portland preceding those dates, enabling the MPA to host the Class A state championships at the Cross Insurance Arena on Thursday, March 1, and the Class AA state finals at the same location in a split session on Friday, March 2.

America East teams are expected to hold practices at the Cross Insurance Arena during the morning and in the early afternoon on those two days, said Matt Herpich, general manager of the Portland arena.

“This was a bunch of people getting together at the table and saying, ‘How can we make this work so it’s not only beneficial for the MPA and America East but also the city of Portland and Maine in general,’” said Herpich.

“I’ve been here 2½ years and the history of high school basketball here is pretty phenomenal, and we got everybody together on the phone or at the table and came together with a great solution, I think.”

The Class B state championships will be held at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on March 2, with the Class D finals set for the afternoon of March 3 and the Class C title games that evening, both at the Augusta Civic Center.

The MPA was unable to host any state championship games in Portland last March after an agreement was reached for America East to host its women’s basketball quarterfinals and semifinals at the Cross Insurance Arena in 2017 and 2018 on the same weekend as the state’s high school state championship games traditionally are contested each year.

The MPA subsequently moved last winter’s Class B state championship games from Portland to an open date at the Augusta Civic Center on Friday, March 3.

The 2017 Class AA and Class A games were played as scheduled at the Augusta venue, but discussions were held last spring among MPA, America East and Cross Insurance Arena representatives about how to schedule the 2018 AA and A state finals in Portland in accordance with the current MPA site rotation and in conjunction with America East’s presence in the arena the same weekend.

“I think everybody agreed that it probably would be helpful to not only draw attention to our tournament by having the games where they’re supposed to be (this year) but to be able to piggyback and work cooperatively with America East,” said MPA executive director Dick Durost.

“I think America East thought there might be some carryover from attendance at our tournament to attendance at their tournament if they were put together over a three- or four-day period. What they really had to do was agree to revise their practice schedules for their teams in order to free up the facility on Thursday and Friday nights for us. They very generously worked with us to do that so I think we all came out winners here.”

The 2018 America East women’s basketball tournament begins Feb. 28 with the No. 8 seed hosting the No. 9 seed in a play-in game. Four quarterfinals will follow at the Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday, March 3, with two semifinals at the CIA on Sunday, March 4.

The America East championship game is set for Friday, March 9, at the home of the highest-seeded finalist. The University of Albany defeated the University of Maine 66-50 in the 2017 AE title game in New York.

“We’d like to thank the MPA and Cross Insurance Arena for its collaboration with America East in scheduling its Class A and Class AA basketball championships,” said America East in a written statement. “With minimal impact to our championship format, we were able to work together to create a schedule affording fans in Maine the opportunity to enjoy four consecutive days of tournament basketball in early March.

“We believe the excitement around the MPA games will only enhance the America East Women’s Basketball Championship and make the event even more successful in its second year in Portland.”

Durost said the only possible negative concerning this year’s MPA state final schedule involves having to play the Class A state finals on a school night.

“That’s not ideal for schools and students, especially with classes that next day, but it certainly was the best alternative that we had available for us,” he said. “We could absolutely not get Saturday there (Portland), so we went with the next best option.”

Durost said plans for the 2019 MPA state championships have not been developed, in part because it’s not clear yet whether America East will seek to return its women’s basketball tournament to Portland beyond the 2018 edition.

“If they do not return then certainly it would put us back to a more normal situation in terms of the state championships and having both Friday night and Saturday available to us,” he said. “But as to whether America East plans to return in 2019 or not, we really don’t have any information.”

There also may be some sentiment to eventually move the Class AA state championship games to Portland on a more permanent basis, given that AA North and South regional semifinals and finals already are played there — quarterfinals are contested on the home courts of the higher seeds.

Last year’s Class AA boys basketball state final between Portland and South Portland was played in Augusta before a crowd described at less than half-capacity, and given the closer proximity of the majority of Class AA schools to Portland rather than Augusta there is the belief that staging those state finals at the Cross Insurance Arena annually would significantly boost the crowd size for those games.

“I think the statement has been made by the 17 schools involved in AA that at least for now Portland will most likely continue to be the site for North and South (regionals),” Durost said.

“I think they’ve made that conscious decision as we move into the tournament for this year. I think as we move forward after that, a key will be whether America East will want to continue to keep their tournament in Portland.”

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...