When the new four-class regional and sectional alignment proposal for prep basketball in West Virginia landed across the state last week, a simple two-word question immediately came to my mind.
The whole four-class experiment has been dressed up and packaged and explained with different reasoning, and all of that is fine, if not valid in some aspects.
But let’s quit beating around the bush and call a duck a duck. A large portion of the most outspoken proponents of the new system had one thing in mind — moving private schools out of Class A, where they have dominated in basketball.
And that point certainly has validity. Since the year 2000, private schools have won 15 Class A titles in boys basketball and 18 in girls basketball. If you want to say they have an unfair advantage in terms of finances, location and the ability to take in athletes over a larger geographical area, fine. I would point to Webster County a year ago not only winning a boys championship but doing so in undefeated fashion, but even I can admit the Highlanders’ big season is an outlier, not the norm.
But what will be the argument next year if the private schools win two state championships instead of one? Think it can’t happen? Look again.
On the girls side, both St. Joseph and Wheeling Central are exercising their option to move up a class to triple-A. Those two programs have combined to win 12 state titles since 2000.
In many years — and I would argue this one as well — one could make a valid case for St. Joseph having been the state’s best team regardless of classification. Look no further than last season. Class AAA girls state champion Parkersburg lost a single game last year and that was a 17-point home defeat to St. Joe.
You could put St. Joseph in Class AAAA and it likely won’t matter. The Irish are a threat to win a state championship and will be for the foreseeable future. Wheeling Central, meanwhile, has a roster with two Division I players on it (Eden Gainer to Columbia, Kaylee Reinbeau to Bucknell) and a third (Hannah White) who is drawing interest. The point is that both St. Joseph and Wheeling Central will absolutely be factors in Class AAA.
Now look at Class AA. That’s where you’ll find Parkersburg Catholic, the state runner-up in Class A a year ago and a threat to get back there again this season. Sure, the Crusaderettes will lose point guard Madeline Huffman to graduation but the rest of the roster will return intact, and that includes Aaliyah Brunny and Leslie Huffman, both great players in their own right.
I’m certainly not handing Parkersburg Catholic a state title next year. Wyoming East and Summers County will be factors, and programs like Frankfort and Bluefield have had several state-tournament runs in recent seasons as well. But could it happen? You bet.
And then what?
See, no matter how many classifications are made, those schools will have to land somewhere. And by going to Class AAA, St. Joseph and Wheeling Central have created an absolute logjam of traditional powerhouses on the girls side.
Also in Class AAA are Fairmont Senior and North Marion. Those two have combined to win six state championships since 2009, including the last three Class AA championships, with the Polar Bears winning two and the Huskies winning one.
Those two and a few others will likely make the road to a championship a little rockier, but I highly doubt that any complaining will be done from Fairmont Senior coach Corey Hines or North Marion coach Mike Parrish. No, it will come from programs without the pedigree, without the athletes and without the success that those schools have had.
Sound familiar? Almost like the same gripes made by fans, parents and, on occasion, coaches of small public schools in Class A over the last two-plus decades?
Since its inception, I’ve chosen to take a wait-and-see approach to the four-class system, and I stand by that. I’m not condemning it now, either. I’m a big don’t-knock-it-til-you’ve-tried-it guy, and we have yet to see how this thing will come together. Maybe it will be an enormous success.
But the underlying truth in all of this is that there will never be a perfect system, and like everything else in life, it is impossible to satisfy everyone.
Try being a girls basketball player, coach or fan at Lincoln County, Logan, Scott or Wayne. Those teams will compete in the only five-team section in all of Class AAA (the rest have four) and oh, by the way, the fifth of those teams is a St. Joseph program that has won nine state titles since 2009. Oh, and also has players on its roster from some of those same school districts. Sound like salt in an open wound?
Larger schools mean larger student bodies, which mean more parents, more coaches, more fans. If the shouts were loud before, how loud might they be at this time in two years?
But before this thing even has a chance to succeed or fail, the passing of this current alignment proposal will already be met with questions.
And I have a feeling I’m not the only person asking: now what?