Shuffling classifications deals twist to state playoff rivalries

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

The Kickoff

November 20, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Every two years, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association takes everything we know about the routes to state championships and throws it out the window through reclassification of schools through population.

And the proposal on the table to regroup schools according to their freshman, sophomore and junior populations for the next two academic years would do more of the same.

The new classifications reflect population changes not only within the state or regionally, but also within counties. For instance, in Anne Arundel County, Meade, which is in the 4A group, the grouping of the largest schools, is proposed to slide to 3A, to be replaced by Severna Park, while Carroll County gains two 4A schools, Westminster and North Carroll.

Virtually all of the 20 team and individual championships the MPSSAA offers will be affected by the proposed classifications and regions, which have to be approved by the Board of Control next month. In the process, the path for some schools to state titles has been made easier, while creating new and potentially interesting rivalries.

Two of the highest-profile changes in the Baltimore area bring Dunbar and New Town into the same region, the new 14-team 1A North, throwing the Poets, one of the area's most storied athletic programs against the Titans, a burgeoning power in the suburbs. Dunbar has won the past four 1A state boys basketball titles, beating New Town in a state semifinal last year. Starting next year, they could meet a round earlier.

For football, the new 4A North region is a nearly all-Baltimore metro area grouping, save for two Frederick County schools, Linganore and Thomas Johnson. Two Baltimore County schools with traditionally strong programs, Hereford and Milford Mill, were moved up from 2A to 3A, in the North, along with Patterson, which slid down from 4A. Meanwhile, City moves to the 2A North grouping from 3A and will compete with Eastern Tech, Randallstown, Poly and Edmondson.

Other sports will, of course, be affected. In field hockey, Severna Park and South River, which have been able in recent years to get to respective state finals in the 3A and 4A classes, now will have to go through each other, as well as Broadneck and Chesapeake, as they all are in the proposed 4A East region.

What was sizing up to be a great boys basketball challenge between Mervo and Walbrook in 3A might disappear when the Warriors move up to 4A. Likewise, the River Hill-Western girls basketball rivalry, which played out stirringly in last year's 3A state championship game, could disappear if the Hawks move down to 2A, as proposed.

In girls soccer, Glenelg and South Carroll, who met in a 2A state semifinal last week, both go into the new Class 1A South region, joining Perryville, which played for the state championship, meaning those three schools will have to battle each other just for a semifinal slot. That, potentially, could be good news for Loch Raven, which lost in the other 2A semifinal, but will see two tough rivals go to another classification.

While mostly keeping schools in largely contiguous regions, the classification committee revealed a cruel streak of sorts, creating two mishmashes of regions, which, like 1A North, have 14 teams.

Unlike the 1A North, which is exclusively schools from the city and Baltimore County, 3A East and 2A South are multi-county divisions that will produce rugged competitions in all sports. The 3A East grouping will have schools from Anne Arundel meet schools from Harford and Howard, as well as Stephen Decatur from Worcester.

The 2A South collection is an even more motley crew. Bunched together is Southern of Anne Arundel, two schools each from Calvert and Charles counties in Southern Maryland, five schools from Howard County and four schools in Prince George's County.

The good news is the state's best rivalry, the one that has had the Dulaney and Severna Park boys lacrosse teams meet in the state semifinals or championship in each of the past seven 4A-3A tournaments, should continue, as both would be 4A schools.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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