Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 6:36 PM on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alaska high school athletics conferences to change shape

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff Writer

Homer High School athletic teams will have the chance to challenge those from more similarly-sized schools, thanks to a recent decision by the Alaska School Activities Association board.

Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, Mariner basketball and volleyball will play in the 3A division with other schools that have fewer than 500 students, including Nikiski and Seward. Wrestling will change to 3A starting next school year. Football will compete in the Medium Schools (326-800 students) conference.

Schools such as Homer and Skyview, which currently compete against much larger schools, will be significantly impacted by the reclassification.

"It's what we needed and wanted for a long time," said Pam Newton, Homer High School's athletic director.

Boys Basketball Coach Mark Casseri agreed.

"I think it will be good for Homer," Casseri said. "Our numbers are that low that we don't need to be playing against the Anchorage and Valley schools. When we make a good substitution, we have a good starting 5, 6, 7; they have 15."

The ASAA board decided in a December meeting to reclassify sports conferences with 1A including schools with 5-60 students; 2A, 61-150; 3A, 151-500; and 4A, 501 and larger. At last week's ASAA meeting in Anchorage, the board placed schools in conferences based on preliminary 2010 enrollment numbers from the state education department and requests from schools to "opt up" in certain programs.

Homer's 2010 enrollment of 399 is a significant drop from the 2009 count of 459 and puts HHS squarely in 3A territory with Nikiski at 262 and Seward at 168. Skyview at 347 (from 457) and Houston at 388 (from 416) are in the same boat. Kenai 524 and Sohi 544 will stay in the 4A conference.

Homer hockey is the only local program that has opted up to play in the 4A conference. Since Nikiski dropped its hockey program, the only 2A/3A teams are north of the valley.

"We looked at that and said 'I don't know if they'd let us in there.' We're just so far away," said Homer Head Hockey Coach Buck Laukitis.

"It feels like the right fit for us to play in the conference we're playing in. We're competitive ... and it's just going to get better next year," Laukitis said.

Also opting up are Seldovia Susan B. English School, volleyball, wrestling and track; Monroe Catholic, basketball and volleyball; Cordova, basketball and volleyball; North Pole, football and softball; Point Hope, basketball; and Kalskag, volleyball.

Programs will be able to opt up later, and the final classifications will be based on 2011 enrollment numbers. The new conferences will be played starting in the 2012/2013 school year, except for wrestling, which will change in the coming school year.

Beginning next year, the 4A wrestling season time frame will be a couple months later than the smaller schools season. If the reclassification didn't go into effect until the year after, Homer and other borderline school wrestling programs would have to go through two major changes.

"It's great, it just keeps us consistent," said Head Wrestling Coach Chris Perk.

He said the change also puts the team on a more equal playing field with the competition, because the small schools cannot often fill all 14 weight classes.

"The one thing that's going to be unfortunate we're not going to get to wrestle against everyone that we got to last year," he said.

Also at the meeting, ASAA decided on a new football format, which makes small schools 325 students and lower, medium schools 326-800 and large schools 801 and larger.

This would keep Mariner football in the same conference with Kenai and Soldotna.