BILLINGS — Though he’s been a member of the Eastern A since 1992, first as the girls basketball coach at Glendive and more recently as the athletic director at Billings Central, Richy Powell has little to offer when it comes to sentimentality regarding the future breakup of the league.
The Eastern A has gone through many changes and variations through the years. But still, its current structure of Billings Central, Glendive, Hardin, Laurel, Miles City and Sidney has created great moments, great runs and great rivalries in all sports.
So when the departure of the Central A’s Belgrade, which is leaving Class A for Class AA for the 2019-20 school year, precipitated changes in both AA and A, one of the casualties was the league Powell knows so well.
But he’s more pragmatic than romantic about it.
“Change is inevitable,” said Powell, who coached the Glendive girls until 2014 and who has been the Central AD since 2015. “We looked at it and said, how do we fix this?”
In November, the Montana High School Association approved a plan by Class A officials that basically restructures conferences, but leaves the divisionals make-up intact. In other words, while the old Eastern A might no longer exist, the same teams will be battling one another for state tournament berths at divisional tournaments just as they have in the past, including the more recent “super divisional” years.
For 2019-20, the Eastern Division will consist of the Northeast and Southeast conference. Miles City, Glendive, Lewistown, Havre and Sidney will comprise the Northeast Conference. Forming the Southeast Conference will be Billings Central, East Helena (expected to open for 2020-21 school year), Hardin, Laurel, Lockwood (expected 2020-21) and Livingston.
So Glendive, Miles City and Sidney will no longer be in the same conference as Billings Central, Laurel and Hardin, but ultimately remain in the same division for postseason tournaments.
The super divisional among Eastern A and Central A teams that is held at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark has been one of the most successful tournaments in the state. Conference realignment won’t change anything with the divisional tournaments — all the same teams will be competing at their same divisionals (minus Belgrade, of course).
“This change, in particular, allows us to continue with what we have going on,” Powell said, “and what we have going on is a very good thing.”
In the Western Division, Dillon, Butte Central, Corvallis, Frenchtown, Hamilton and Stevensville will be in the Southwest Conference. Browning, Columbia Falls, Libby, Polson, Ronan and Whitefish will comprise the Northwest Conference.
Soccer will continue to have three divisions: Billings Central, East Helena, Laurel, Lockwood and Livingston in the East; Corvallis, Frenchtown/St. Regis, Hamilton, Missoula Loyola/Valley Christian and Stevensville/Florence-Carlton-Victor in the South; and Bigfork, Columbia Falls, Libby-Troy, Polson and Whitefish in the North.
Until East Helena and Lockwood come on line, scheduling and travel will be difficult for the three-team Eastern Division of Billings Central, Laurel and Livingston.
Powell said scheduling and playoff formats for Class A sports will be determined in the next few weeks. Scheduling for the upcoming school year is usually completed in March, Powell said.