The long-awaited West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission reclassification numbers for the 2020-21 through 2023-24 school years were released on Thursday night, with several schools on the move.
Class AAA will go from 29 to 32 teams under the new model with Oak Hill, Lincoln County and Bridgeport moving up to the state’s highest classification. Bridgeport has the lowest enrollment among big schools with 822 students, 23 more than Fairmont Senior, which has the largest enrollment in Class AA at 799.
SSAC executive director Bernie Dolan said expanding Class AAA was a top priority, especially in football where 16 teams get into the postseason. With Fairmont’s enrollment number sitting just below 800, Dolan said it made sense to draw the new line there.
Winfield, a Kanawha Valley school that figured to be right on the Class AAA-AA borderline, will stay in double-A with 790, the third-largest total behind Fairmont Senior and Elkins. Nitro is fourth in the classification at 769.
“Our board looked at these without school names,” Dolan said. “It just looked like a good place to break. The gap in Class AAA is still over 1,000 students and we tried not to let that gap get too big.”
While the number of teams participating in Class AAA will grow by three, Class AA will shrink by seven as the aforementioned three teams move up and James Monroe, River View, Petersburg and Man move down into Class A.
With those four joining, the number of small schools went from 54 to 56, a number also affected by the closures of Fayetteville and Valley Fayette since the last set of numbers were released.
“We did these more off the [enrollment] numbers than the number of schools in each class,” Dolan said. “It looked like a better breaking point for these schools. Even though there are 56 now in Class A, 11 of them are non-football-playing schools. I think a lot of people are thinking about basketball when they look at these and basketball is going to have a completely different breakout. You’ve kind of got to take basketball out of the picture with this.”
A proposal for a new four-class system that will take effect for basketball only during the 2020-2021 season was passed by the West Virginia Board of Education in July. The system is expected to be a trial run for two years.
In that model, schools will be separated into four classes and will be measured by several factors, with 70 percent coming from enrollment, 20 percent from the proximity of a school to a county seat or city of 10,000 or more people and 10 percent from the socioeconomic status of the area.
While classification numbers for all other sports were released on Thursday, Dolan said breaking schools into four basketball classes will come a little later, speculating that a special board meeting could be called the weekend of the Super Six.
“The process for it is going to be, we will plug in these enrollment numbers and each school will be able to verify their number and will have a couple of days to do that,” Dolan said.