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Milford's Rachel Gray, right, watches as teammate Brit White and Hollis/Brookline's Alicia Wilson try to head the ball during Tuesday's game.
Sunday, August 22, 2010

NHIAA goes to divisions in all sports

Every year brings change in New Hampshire high school sports, but typically not the sweeping changes we’ll see during the 2010-2011 athletic year.

Let’s start with classification. Classes have been eliminated in favor of divisions, so we’ve seen the last Class L Basketball Tournament. Next March, it will be the Division I Tournament at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym.

After a year of experimenting with a complicated points system in Class I (now Division II) last year, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association has scraped the Heel Point System but embraced a new system that will be used, uniformly, by all sports and all divisions.

The one big exception – at least for the first couple of years – is that out-of-division games in football won’t count toward a team’s playoff record, just as they haven’t in the past.

Under the New Hampshire Index Plan, team’s will receive slightly more points for a road win than a home win and more points for playing a team in a higher division. Fewer points will be rewarded for victories against opponents in a lower division.

Under the new system, Division I teams get five points for each road win and four for a victory at home. To rank teams, the total number of points is divided by the total number of games.

“We did it because a lot of school systems are telling athletic directors to play games closer to home,” said L. Patrick Corbin, Executive Director of the NHIAA. “That often means scheduling more games outside of their division.”

The new system also allows teams from lower classifications to play up in certain sports, like it did in divisional formats previously. No school has embraced the opportunity more than Hollis/Brookline, which has chosen to play at the Division I level in girls soccer, girls volleyball and girls lacrosse.

Hollis/Brookline, Class I runner-up in girls soccer in each of the last three seasons, gets a great opening game test Aug. 31 at Exeter, a defending champion and winner of three of the last five Class L titles.

“The exciting thing is we’re facing 16 teams we’ve never played before,” Hollis/Brookline girls’ soccer coach Craig Powers said. “We are basically going to have to bring our ‘A’ game every time out.”

There will be no boys’ volleyball this fall. It’s been moved to the spring for 2010-2011, with the hopes that more schools will get involved.

“There was some sentiment to drop boys volleyball because if hasn’t grown like many expected it would,” Corbin said. “We’ll see what happens now that we’re offering it in the spring.”

Bowling returns for the second year as a co-ed varsity sport and the NHIAA is exploring ideas for interscholastic competition for Special Olympic competitors.

Other changes include the adoption of the 43-foot pitching rubber (formally 40 feet) next spring for softball. The change was made primarily as a safety factor, but it should help offensive production.

The NHIAA has adopted the National Federation of High School Sports Association’s guidelines on concussions, which mandate a conservative approach toward allowing athletes to return to the field after they’ve suffered a head injury.

Certain member schools have pushed for years for open tournaments. The NHIAA will experiment with the concept this year in six Division III sports, boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball and softball. The division, formally Class M, is tied with Division II as the state’s largest, with 24 schools.

Under the format the top eight teams entering the final week of the regular-season will draw a bye, while the remaining teams will be paired off in “play-in” games to reduce the final tournament field to 16 teams.

“We’ll try it for a year,” Corbin said. “I know there are coaches and athletic directors in some divisions who generally oppose the idea.”

It wouldn’t work in Division I boys soccer, which has been reduced to just 17 teams, with Trinity, Goffstown and Manchester West all moving down to Division II.

Re-alignment in football included a very strong Division II power, Exeter, moving up to Division I while Manchester West, which has struggled since the opening of Bedford’s high school, moving down to Division II.

The NHIAA also welcomes a new school to varsity competition across the board. Windham, which won’t have a senior class until next year, will compete in Division V football, but in Division II in most sports.

Two Southern New Hampshire football teams which have established themselves as contenders in their former divisions will face the prospect of playing bigger schools this fall.

Campbell is moving up from Division VI to Division V, while Pelham is making the leap from Division V to Division III.