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Belchertown to appeal MIAA football placement

For all the recent success enjoyed by the Belchertown football team, the program claims it’s not ready for the huge step up in competition that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association laid out in the proposed state football playoff alignment.

The Orioles were placed in Division 4, the second-highest division comprised of teams from western Massachusetts. Athletic director R.J. Marchewka and principal Christine Vigneux submitted a formal appeal to the MIAA before the Dec. 21 deadline, and it will be heard by the sectional subcommittee at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Northampton High School.

Putnam (Division 2) and Lee (Division 5) are the only other western Mass. programs set to appeal. A total of 27 eastern Mass. schools and eight more in central Mass. will also challenge their placement, according to the Boston Herald.

Still a relatively young program, Belchertown will play its 13th season of varsity football in the fall of 2013. The 2012 squad had 31 players on the preseason roster and was well under 30 healthy players by the end of the season.

The football program competes for players with a highly successful soccer program, which has won the last two Western Massachusetts Division 2 championships.

“I try not to label us as a ‘soccer school,’ but the football program is only 12 years old and it’s made tremendous strides,” said Marchewka. “But these other schools we’d be competing against have longtime traditional football programs and most have more boys in their schools. And until we can fill out a full junior varsity program every year, it’s hard to throw us in against these more mature programs.”

Belchertown coach John Mayo, who couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, made it known after the Super Bowl loss to Mount Greylock that his team did not belong in Division 4.

The Orioles are coming off their third consecutive postseason appearance. This past season, they went undefeated in the Intercounty League and reached the Division 3 Super Bowl.

“Our program’s success the last few years may hurt our appeal, and I think we were placed higher based on our recent performance,” said Marchewka. “But at the same time, when you look at the teams our success has come against, it’s mostly been against teams in Division 5 and even Division 6. So a combination of factors went into our decision to appeal this.”

The statewide playoff proposal was passed by the MIAA general assembly on Oct. 26 on a two-year trial basis. The new alignment has six divisions across the state, but western Massachusetts would only have four — Divisions 2, 4, 5 and 6.

Northampton, Amherst Regional and South Hadley are set to play in Division 4, while Easthampton and Frontier Regional were placed in Division 5.

“We’re definitely more closely aligned with the smaller programs from a competitive standpoint,” Marchewka said. “We think we belong with the schools in Division 5. We looked at the school enrollment numbers, and based on that we can fit in either one. But in terms of roster numbers in comparison with some of these other schools, we line up with Division 5.”

Of the 10 schools proposed for Division 4, only South Hadley (323) and Wahconah Regional (300) have a smaller male enrollment than Belchertown (360). Those two programs made the Division 2 Super Bowl this past season.

“A lot of these towns not only have full JV teams but also freshman teams, and their youth programs are much stronger than ours,” said Marchewka.

Intercounty League rivals Commerce and Sci-Tech would join the Orioles in Division 4. There are also three Division 1 programs — Chicopee, Agawam and Chicopee Comp — aligned in Division 4.

If Belchertown moved to Division 5, it would have the fourth-highest male enrollment out of 13 schools.

“The committee really hasn’t discussed any particular school’s placement,” he said. “I think they did a great job of fitting western Mass. within the framework of the state proposal, placing each school where they belong. They seemed to look most at male enrollment and strength of program in trying to make equitable alignments. It’s a difficult task and tough decisions need to be made. Not everyone is going to end up where they want to be.”

The MIAA Football Committee will meet on Jan. 22, when all divisional alignments will be finalized, according to the Boston Herald.

“The committee will do what it thinks is best for western Mass. as a whole,” he said. “This whole league and division realignment is based on the best interest of all 42 programs in the area. So I’m really not sure how they’ll decide with our placement.”

MBCA CLINIC & CONVENTION — The Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association will host its 46th Annual MBCA Baseball Clinic and Convention Jan. 25-26 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Westborough.

The event features two days of instructional and informational presentations by collegiate, professional and high school coaches from across the nation. The clinic runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

Dozens of vendors will offer many types of baseball apparel and equipment, as well as instructional and fundraising plans for teams and coaches.

All high school and college coaches, as well as interested Elite Baseball, AAU, Babe Ruth League, Cal Ripken, American Legion and Little League coaches are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Fee is $40 (one day) or $60 (both days). To register or for additional information, visit www.massbca.com.

The clinic speakers are: Mike Curran, Esperanza (Calif.) High School; Craig Anderson, Pine Island (Minn.) High School; Justin Blood, University of Hartford (Conn.); Scot Loiseau, University of Southern New Hampshire; Mike Gambino, Boston College; Seth Kaplan, Dean College; Mike Ward, Salem State University; Matt LaBranche, Western New England University; Mike Tully, Total Game Plan; Tom O’Connell, Princeton (N.J.) University; Harvey Krupnick, HK Hitting Academy; and Ken Ryan, former Boston Red Sox pitcher, KR Baseball Academy.

GAME OF THE WEEK — Turners Falls at Smith Academy, boys basketball, Monday, 7 p.m. — The top teams in the Hampshire West square off in Hatfield. Entering tonight, both teams are 5-1 overall, 4-1 in the league. Both losses came at the hand of Greenfield. Smith lost by two, Turners by three.

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