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high school sports

In unprecedented vote, Mass. high schools agree to statewide playoff format in 2021

More than 330 representatives went to Marlborough to participate in Friday’s vote.
More than 330 representatives went to Marlborough to participate in Friday’s vote.John Tlumacki/Globe staff/Globe Staff

MARLBOROUGH — The most influential vote in the 41-year history of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association stoked a standing-room-only auditorium at Assabet Valley Tech Friday morning with passionate presentations, spirited rebuttals, and much back-and-forth discussion.

Representatives from 333 of the 380 MIAA member schools filed their ballots into the boxes at the front of the auditorium. Their decision would shape the future of state tournaments for 2021 and beyond.

After all the votes were cast, Xaverian assistant principal Chris Vasta announced that the proposal for a statewide tournament format — crafted for more than two years by the MIAA Tournament Management Committee seeking “fairness” and an equal path to a championship — had indeed passed, 193-140.

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In the fall of 2021, the North, South, Central, and West sectional tourney formats, in place since 1978, will end, making way for a statewide tournament in all team sports.

Friday’s decision was a starting point, a baseline for change moving forward.

Now the real work begins, from Boston to the Berkshires.

“We have not said that it is perfect,” said Burlington athletic director Shaun Hart, who has spearheaded the statewide plan along with TMC colleagues Jim O’Leary and Johanna DiCarlo, and associate executive director Sherry Bryant.

“But we are going to do everything we can to make it the best possible tournament we can make it . . . and I don’t care who has the idea.

“The best part of the situation is this: There are some very good ideas that have come out in the last month and a half.”

A member held a ballot for the vote.
A member held a ballot for the vote. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

That includes discussion, particularly in the West and Central regions, of retaining some form of a sectional tournament, to be played in the final week of the regular season.

The alternative to the 2021 realignment would have been equal and balanced sections, with a number of schools from Central moving to the West, and a number of others from the North and South shifting to the Central.

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The vote, no doubt, reflected a strong influence from Eastern Massachusetts, where 247 of the 380 schools are, and the majority of the state’s Division 1 and 2 programs.

In 90 minutes of pre-vote discussion, voices were heard from every region, pro and con.

Joe Gamache, AD at Franklin County Tech in Turners Falls, asked, “Are we doing what is best for everyone? What about the student body, and the parents [with travel], and the financial aspect?”

Power seeding is shifting to MaxPreps in 2020. Although that change was not connected to the statewide vote, it continues to prompt angst.

“Having a MaxPreps meeting [with the TMC March 17] after this vote does not make sense,” said Medway AD Jeff Parcells, who had planned to vote “no.”

Participants listened before the vote.
Participants listened before the vote.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Brendan Case, AD at Holbrook/Avon, was concerned with the loss of rivalry games with the shift away from South tournaments. Thursday night’s D4 South preliminary-round game against South Shore Christian — the teams’ third meeting of the season — packed the gym.

“It was a really good night,” he said, adding that it was one the Holbrook players will long remember.

Granby assistant principal/AD Allison Jordan asked why the students were not involved in the process.

Derek Folan, Principal of Canton High School spoke before the vote.
Derek Folan, Principal of Canton High School spoke before the vote.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Seated on stage with fellow TMC leaders, Canton principal Derek Folan urged the assembly to approve the bold and comprehensive plan.

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“This has the potential to unite the state,” he said.

Pam Gould, superintendent of schools at Sandwich High and a member of the MIAA’s Blue Ribbon committee, took note of the two-year process and the work invested.

“Are things perfect?” she asked. “We are always looking to make things better. Is this better for the kids as a whole? It always has to be about the kids.”

Shrewsbury AD Jay Costa endorsed the “outside-the-box” thinking of the proposal.

“This creates excitement,” he said prior to the vote. “I hope this prevents kids leaving for prep schools. I think we have become fragmented as a state.”

The turnout Friday did showcase the MIAA and its members coming together with passion about the future — even if opinions were divided.

“I think the most important thing that was illustrated here today was the [MIAA] at work, on two counts,” said MIAA executive director Bill Gaine.

“One, the [TMC] spent an incredible amount of volunteer time to improve our tournament structure. Two years, all of the arenas that they have been in, the merits of the proposal.

“And two, the subject engendered the participation of the membership. It was an incredible turnout. I applaud the membership. Good stuff.”


Globe correspondent Nate Weitzer contributed to this report. Craig Larson can be reached at craig.larson@globe.com