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Even though final confirmation is about four months away, it appears as if the state’s four-class system for high school basketball should be sticking around for at least two more seasons, and possibly becoming permanent.

That’s the feeling of Bernie Dolan, the executive director of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, who said the initial four-class postseason venture last spring was “well received.”

In July of 2019, the four-class system was approved for a two-year trial run by the state Board of Education, altering the three-class format that had been in use by the SSAC since 1959 to crown champions at its member high schools.

Even though the new system has just begun its second season, Dolan expects at least another two years of four classes before a decision is made to make it permanent or not. And if it is indeed passed, it could ultimately be joined by other sports.

“I would anticipate it going for another two years,” Dolan said of four classes in basketball, “and then anything else [about making it permanent] would come along at the start of a four-year cycle.”

The SSAC uses enrollment figures to classify its member schools every four years for competition in the 19 sports it sponsors. The current four-year cycle covers school years from 2020-21 through 2023-24.

Dolan said that at the current season’s end, his office will file a report to the Department of Education, which approves its rules, about the progress of the four-class system, and then try to get the proposal on the April agenda of the state Board of Education for a final decision.

“We’ll give them our report on how we feel it went,” Dolan said. “I think with one year in a COVID year is a hard thing to judge completely, but all in all, I think it was well received.”

The first season of four classes in basketball provided a lot of fresh faces accepting championships.

In boys basketball, Shady Spring (Class AAA) and Man (A) won their first titles in the sport, while Williamstown (AA) earned its second, with the first coming in 1962, and George Washington (AAAA) took its fourth.

In girls basketball, Nitro (AAA) and Tug Valley (A) captured their first championships, Wyoming East (AA) took its second and Huntington (AAAA) its fourth.

That’s part of the reason why Dolan anticipates an extension of the two-year trial run for basketball, and then having talks about including other sports in the four-class setup as well.

“We’ll be looking at finishing this year and doing our report,” Dolan said, “and doing it for two more years. Then somebody will probably write a rule proposal [to make it permanent], and also including other sports if we’re going to do that, and vote on that at the Board of Control meeting.”

The Board of Control, made up of the SSAC’s member high schools and middle schools, would then vote on the possibility of including four classes in other sports.

“The principals will have to decide,” Dolan said of expanding the four-class system to other sports, “and once they decide, we’ll have to formulate tournament structures to match their classifications.”

Dolan didn’t assume that the four-class format would be used in the state’s football playoffs. One of the widely accepted reasons for going to four classes in basketball was the recent domination of private schools in both boys and girls Class A hoops.

From 1999-2018, six different private schools combined to capture 17 of the 20 boys state championships at the Class A level — Wheeling Central, Charleston Catholic, Parkersburg Catholic, Madonna, St. Joseph and Notre Dame.

In girls basketball, which resumed in 1976, seven different private schools claimed 34 of the 42 Class A crowns through 2019 — St. Joseph, Parkersburg Catholic, Mercer Christian, Wheeling Central, St. Francis, Charleston Catholic and Madonna. The 2020 state tournaments in both boys and girls basketball were canceled due to COVID-19.

In football, however, outside of one program — Wheeling Central — there wasn’t as much domination. The Maroon Knights have taken 11 state titles since 2000, but only one other private school (Madonna with two) has won a championship in that stretch. St. Marys captured the 2020 Class A title and Ritchie County earned its first championship earlier this month.

Dolan thinks that approving another two years of four classes in basketball will allow schools to consider whether they want to continue to “play up” a class, as several did last season, or return to their normal level of competition.

“I think some of the schools who opted up may opt back after this two-year period,” Dolan said. “It’ll give everybody a chance to decide if they want to go up for two more years, and if not, then settle where they’re at.”

Dolan said if the four-class system in basketball is extended for another two seasons, as he expects, and the basketball format then coincides with the four-year enrollment cycle, teams will make decisions on whether to opt up for four years at a time instead of just two; that is, if the rule eventually becomes permanent.

Rick Ryan covers prep sports. He can be reached at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@hdmediallc.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

Preps Sports Reporter