HELENA — Montana high school sports fans can expect more changes to their classifications in the coming years.
Mark Beckman, the Montana High School Assocation executive director, has officially recommended Belgrade to move from Class A to Class AA. Beckman’s recommendation comes on the heels of the release of the latest enrollment numbers from the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
Belgrade’s three-year average enrollment was 862.75 students, well above the Class AA threshold. Class AA consists of schools with more than 779 students, but football has its own cutoff: Schools with more than 900 students play Class AA while schools with 351-900 students can play in Class A. Belgrade athletic director Rick Phillips said the Panthers will move up to Class AA in all sports, though.
It was first reported in January that Belgrade was preparing to move to Class AA.
Once the recommendation receives final approval at the MHSA meetings on April 9 and 10, Belgrade will move to Class AA for the 2019-20 school year. Phillips said it hasn’t yet been determined in which conference the Panthers will participate, but it’s largely assumed Belgrade will join the Eastern AA.
Beckman is also recommending that Arlee and Great Falls Central move from Class C to Class B, though both have enrollments that will allow them to continue playing 8-Man football.
Great Falls Central athletic director Jamie Stevens and Arlee athletic director Amy Bartels confirmed that both schools will accept the recommendations without appeal. GFCC and Arlee will begin participating in Class B in the fall of 2019, pending MHSA board approval.
“We’re excited for the new challenge,” said Great Falls Central athletic director Jamie Stevens. “We’re extremely happy that our school is continuing to grow. We look forward to a new family in the Class B world. It’s bittersweet: Leaving Class C is rough, because we’ve created such close bonds and it really is a family. It’s definitely bittersweet.”
“There’s a couple sports that we know we’re going to struggle in with our numbers,” said Arlee athletic director Amy Bartels. “Girls basketball, we’re a little bit concerned about with our numbers. Everything else, we feel fairly confident. … I’m kind of excited. It’s going to give us some different opportunities, especially in basketball and volleyball.”
Beckman also recommended moves for Butte Central (from Class A to Class B) and Fairfield (from Class B to Class C), but both schools have requested to stay in their respective classifications.