HELENA -- Great Falls Central Catholic High School will move back to Class C after a brief hiatus, following the Montana High School Association's annual November executive board meeting, which was held earlier this week in Helena. Great Falls Central's move was one of many voted upon by the MHSA executive board this week.
GFCC, which moved up a classification from Class C to Class B in the fall of 2018 due to increased enrollment, will now reclassify back to Class C beginning in the 2021-22 school year. Great Falls Central has seen a 25 percent enrollment drop this year.
The Mustangs, who currently compete in District 1B for the majority of sports besides football, which remained on the 8-Man fields, will compete in District 8C for basketball and track and field, while the volleyball program will participate in District 6C. GFCC's golf programs will be in the Western Division, while the softball and wrestling teams will be in the Eastern Division, the tennis clubs will compete in the Northwest Division and the Mustangs' football team will remain in the 8-Man North.
Harlem and Poplar, Class B schools, had their requests to drop to 8-Man football approved. Poplar will compete in the 8-Man East, while Harlem, which brings in football players from nearby Turner, will be in the 8-Man North.
Plains, Thompson Falls, Lodge Grass, Lame Deer and St. Labre were each approved to remain in 8-Man football. Of those programs, only Thompson Falls participated in the 8-Man playoffs this fall, while Lodge Grass, Lame Deer and St. Labre did not compete due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The MHSA executive board also approved West Yellowstone's request to reclassify from 8-Man to 6-Man, with a plan to review the reclassification after one year. The Wolverines did not field a varsity team this fall.
Box Elder and Centerville were both approved to remain in 6-Man football.
The MHSA executive board weighs three criteria when hearing requests: 1) Overall school enrollment, 2) Roster size, and 3) Competitiveness. Four years ago the board implemented new enrollment cutoffs, which include an additional 10 percent leeway to allow schools to remain in lower classifications, and are as follows:
Class AA: 779 students or more (compared to 826 students or more previously)
Class A: 307-778 students (compared to 340-825 students previously)
Class B: 108-306 students (compared to 120-339 students previously)
Class C: 107 students or fewer (compared to 119 students or fewer previously)
The football-specific classification guidelines, which can utilize the same 10 percent rule, are:
Class AA: 901 students or more
Class A: 351-900 students
Class B: 131-350 students
8-Man: 66-130 students
6-Man: 65 students or fewer
With the reclassification changes above, realignments were also discussed during the board's call. East Helena was among those affected, with the Vigilantes' request to move from the Southeast A to the Southwest A due to the proximity of opposing teams approved. East Helena will remain in the Eastern A for soccer. Those changes also apply to the 2021-22 school year.
The latest football alignments saw minimal changes, the majority at the 8-Man and 6-Man levels. Poplar, which left the Eastern B, joined 11 other programs in the 8-Man East, while Harlem, formerly of the Northern B, is one of 13 teams in the 8-Man North. In 6-Man, West Yellowstone became one of six teams to compete in the 6-Man West.
The board also changed the date of its annual January meeting from Jan. 16 to Jan. 11, and the meeting will be held virtually.
The MHSA's fall sports season concluded on Saturday with the final championships in football. The board previously voted to postpone the beginning of winter sports, with practices in basketball, wrestling and swimming slated to begin on Monday, Dec. 7, and competition delayed until Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021.
Guidelines for winter sports will include no multi-team events, with the exception of wrestling mixers in smaller schools that can't field an entire roster. Larger programs will compete in a dual-only format. Swimming may also elect to host virtual meets.