Gremlins still free to ‘B’ in 2014-15 classification

HOUGHTON – The Michigan High School Athletic Association has released its classifications for the 2014-15 school year, and for the Copper Country the most notable feature is the lack of change.

None of the 11 Copper Country high schools will be changing classes in the upcoming year, which means Houghton will remain the only local school in Class B for a second consecutive year.

The MHSAA creates its four traditional classifications, A through D, by ordering the state’s 749 participating schools from largest to smallest, then chopping them into four equally-sized groups.

The threshold splitting classes B and C is 424 students. HHS reported 426, which will make the Gremlins the third-smallest Class B school in the state. Last year, they had 437 and were the sixth-smallest B.

Because the lines are recalculated each year without past considerations, a school with declining enrollment can stay in the class in which it has traditionally resided so long as it doesn’t decline significantly faster than the statewide rate, which can be influenced by declining enrollment elsewhere and the creation of small charter schools in metropolitan areas.

Calumet, the second-largest high school in the Copper Country, reported a count of 419, which puts the Copper Kings only seven spots behind the Gremlins in line but makes them the state’s fifth-largest ‘C’ school.

The only two movers in the Upper Peninsula for 2014-15 are both going down: Newberry and St. Ignace from Class C to Class D.

The MHSAA only uses these traditional classifications to set the field in postseason tournaments for basketball and volleyball. They are also used in football to determine playoff point averages and thus tournament seeding. In other sports, such as hockey, participating schools are divided into nearly-equal divisions by enrollment regardless of their class.

The recalculation means there are only 12 Class C schools in the Upper Peninsula next fall: Ironwood, West Iron County, Calumet, L’Anse, Hancock, Iron Mountain, Norway, Gwinn, Negaunee, Ishpeming, Westwood and Manistique. There remain 2 ‘A’s’: Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie; and five ‘B’s’: Escanaba, Gladstone, Menominee, Kingsford and Houghton.

The move may constitute a tipping point in those tournaments. In the past, the MHSAA has taken measures to limit downstate schools from being forced to play regional tournament games above the Mackinac Bridge, including the creation of rare three-team district tournaments, but with only a dozen C schools and none from Manistique to the Bridge, the MHSAA may have to either chop up traditional groupings (such as this year’s Calumet-L’Anse-Hancock-Ironwood tournament or the four-team Marquette County district) or send a whole district north. Schools in Indian River and Harbor Springs have already been playing district games above the bridge and the likes of Rogers City (newly promoted from ‘D’ for 2014-15), Boyne City and Charlevoix may find themselves joining them. The boundaries of district tournaments will be announced later in the year.

From a competitive standpoint the biggest change may come in girls’ basketball, in which Region 24 will have a champion other than Houghton or St. Ignace for the first time since 2008.

As far as other local schools, L’Anse, at 230, is the closest to the C-D cutline but 11 schools separate it from Mendon (214), the largest Class D school in Michigan. Newberry and St. Ignace both have exactly 211.