By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Kingston will be left with just two triple-A high schools now that the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations has adopted new guidelines for classifying schools for team sports.
Holy Cross and Regiopolis Notre Dame will be the only AAA schools, not only in the Kingston Area, but in all of the Eastern Ontario Secondary Schools Athletic Association, when the new parameters come into effect this fall. Frontenac, the last public AAA school, is now, by definition, a AA institution.
The realignment arose from the question of whether to maintain quadruple-A championships, specifically related to the difficulty in finding schools to host them. “Every year they were running into issues there,” said Frank Halligan, commissioner of the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
Various OFSAA committees have been studying the question for two years, Halligan said.
Ultimately, the quad-A classification, formerly for schools of 1,250 students or more, was eliminated. Triple-A schools, formerly with up to 1,000 students, are now classed as those with more than 950 pupils; schools with between 500 and 950 pupils will be AA and those with less than 500 will be classed as single-A.
In KASSAA, it means that in addition to Frontenac dropping from AAA to double-A, Queen Elizabeth becomes a single-A school. Ernestown, with projected enrolment of 501, will be a AA school for the 2015-16 athletic year, but may soon also find its teams in single-A competition as well.
Halligan believes that’s a good development, because it gives KASSAA more opportunities to compete at the single-A level. In recent years, only Marie-Rivier and Granite Ridge—or formerly Sharbot Lake—have been single-A schools, and they didn’t often have teams in many sports.
“In KASSAA, we haven’t been able to participate in the single-A championships,” Halligan said. “Whether Marie-Rivier or GREC had teams determined whether we went. QE, at least in basketball and rugby, they’ll be keen to go.”
The new guidelines do not affect individual sports, such as cross country or track and field, for which there is only one OFSAA championship, where all athletes compete, irrespective of school size.
“There will still be some strong programs in certain sports, such as, I would think, Frontenac football, and Frontenac senior boys basketball, who may choose to still compete at the triple-A level,” Halligan said.
Sydenham chose to play football at the AAA level two years ago, and Ernestown opted up for football last year.
What the new framework does, however, is put in jeopardy the recent football paradigm of conducting separate playoffs based on school size. Last year, Regi, Frontenac, Holy Cross and Ernestown played for a AAA title, while Sydenham, La Salle and Bayridge contested the AA crown. The respective champions subsequently entered separate post-KASSAA playoffs.
It would be impractical to continue that format if no one declares up, leaving Regi and Holy Cross as AAA finalists before the season even begins.
“We have to look at that,” Halligan said. “Just putting one of those championships together, with the time, money and facilities and all the other stuff (is difficult) … we may have to make an 11th-hour decision come September, depending on what happens with the decisions on who declares to what level.”
With EOSSAA already top-heavy with AA schools—as declining enrolment has pushed such traditional athletic powers as Arnprior, Brockville Thousand Islands, Fellowes in Pembroke and Cornwall St. Joseph out of triple-A—KASSAA basketball and volleyball teams may decide to cast their lot in the local AAA pool. That’s because, with no other triple-A schools in EOSSAA, the Kingston Area champion goes straight to OFSAA. That may be a more appealing challenge than trying to survive a competitive double-A EOSSAA tournament.
The downside would be whether triple-A OFSAA becomes a more difficult tournament to win, with the return of the teams from the former AAAA schools.
It could lead to some interesting pre-season speculation.
“There may be those situations where teams declare to the triple-A level because it enhances their changes of getting to OFSAA,” Halligan said. “Once you get to OFSAA, it doesn’t matter if it’s AA or AAA, it’s pretty good competition.”
The quad-A question has not been an issue in KASSAA since the enrolment at Napanee, the last Kingston Area school in that category—with about 1,400 pupils 10 or so years ago—fell below the threshold. It was largely an issue in the larger metropolitan areas, such as Toronto, Hamilton, London and Windsor, and a few large regional schools, such as Chatham-Kent.
“It was debated hotly at the OFSAA level and looked at under the microscope,” Halligan said. “Most were pleased to some degree. Not that everybody was totally happy, but at least their voices were heard and good debate was held.
“When you split the numbers up in the province, you do get almost a third, a third, a third (in each classification) this way. It was not (like that) the other way. The quad-A schools were significantly bigger, but there were not a lot of them.”