By BRANDON VEALE
For The Daily News
HOUGHTON - For only the second time in the last 33 years, the Copper Country will have a school in the Michigan High School Athletic Association's second-highest class.
For the first time in recent history, that school will be Houghton.
HHS will play in Class B in the 2013-14 school year, according to new classifications released by the MHSAA on its website this week.
The MHSAA's four classes, A, B, C and D, are determined by organizing the state's participating high schools from largest to smallest, then dividing them into four groups by enrollment. This means that Houghton, which has a figure of 437 for 2013-14, is the 373rd largest of 756 MHSAA members. The Gremlins will play 2013-14 as the sixth-smallest B school in Michigan, nine students above the B/C cutline. Houghton, which has a current figure of 408, jumped 30 spots in the overall list this year.
The classifications only directly organize competition in three MHSAA tournaments: girls' volleyball and boys' and girls' basketball. In other sports, such as football or hockey, the tournament fields are determined by 'nearly-equal divisions,' which normally include an even cut of participating teams.
The U.P. will have five Class B schools in 2013-14, with none closer to the Copper Country than Kingsford. The other three are Great Northern Conference members Escanaba, Menominee and Gladstone. The schools commonly use the non-traditional draw format (that is, each district game is at a different site to minimize overall travel), though exact details of district assignments will be determined in the months to come.
The risk to the Houghton girls' basketball program's streak of 14 consecutive district championships may not necessarily change much.
Houghton played three of the GNC's four Class B schools last year, went 4-0, and only one of the games (a Dec. 27 trip to Gladstone) was close. Kingsford was the only one of the four to be ranked in the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association girls' basketball poll at any point last season, whereas two of its potential district opponents, Calumet and L'Anse, were ranked in multiple weeks and return several key players next season.
Houghton has won Gladstone's "The Rock" volleyball tournament three straight times. Both Houghton and Calumet have repeatedly demonstrated supremacy over U.P. volleyball regardless of class with Kingsford fielding the strongest 'B' program as of late.
The Gremlin boys' hoops team split two games with Escanaba last year.
Calumet has been near the B/C cutline occasionally in the past. The Copper Kings most recently played in B in the 2002-03 school year and were regulars in B until 1980, but Houghton has been in C every year since at least 1951.
In addition to Houghton, there will be two schools moving in the U.P. next year.
St. Ignace will return to Class C after a one-year trip to D in which it went 27-0 and won the state girls' basketball championship.
The other mover is Stephenson, which falls from C to D. Therefore, the U.P. will have two Class A schools (Marquette and Sault High), five B's and 14 C's. Given that most district tournaments have at least four teams, it is possible that more schools from downstate may have to play in districts feeding to a U.P. regional, as Harbor Springs and Indian River Inland Lakes did in the basketball tournaments this season, or district lines may be redrawn now that only three C schools (Iron Mountain, West Iron County and Norway) fall within the traditional "Central time" district.
The total of 14 C's does not account for cooperatives such as Chassell and Jeffers in volleyball. Their combined enrollment is one student over the C cutline.