MISSOULA — Arlee, Class C's dominant boys' basketball powerhouse, has only one more year to extend its reign among Montana's smallest schools.
The Arlee Warriors and Scarlets will be competing at the Class B level come 2019-20, the Montana High School Association (MHSA) made official on Tuesday at its annual meetings.
Arlee's athletic director Amy Bartels received the reclassification letter back in March and decided not to appeal the overall change.
"We've known it's been coming for a little while," Bartels told 406mtsports.com before the announcement was made official. "Our numbers have been increasing, but we weren't exactly sure where we were going to fall on that spectrum."
Arlee's two-year average enrollment is 129, which is 11 students over the mandatory cut off mark at 118.
That 118 number is even a little generous.
The MHSA allows schools to stay in their current classification if their enrollment is above the set figure by less than 10 percent. Class C's set figure — before the 10 percent allowance — is 107.
According to MHSA records, Arlee has been among the largest three Class C schools every year since the 2007-08 academic year.
MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman said Arlee has been on the radar for reclassification for a while now.
"They've been close over the last several cycles, but now they're above and beyond those numbers," Beckman said. "Also, our reclassification numbers were adjusted last year and they were lowered a little bit so that probably factored into this a little bit too."
Last year, the MHSA lowered the enrollment figure for classification purposes. In previous years, the 10 percent ceiling for a Class C school was an enrollment of 131 — which Arlee is currently two students below.
Arlee has bounced around between Class B and Class C since Montana changed its classification system to the four classes of AA, A, B and C. Arlee's most recent move was ahead of the 2007-08 academic year when it dropped down to Class C.
Since moving to Class C 10 years ago, Arlee has won three Class C state championships in two sports — two for boys' basketball and one for wrestling.
Arlee has been runner-up seven times in four different sports: twice in boys' basketball, once in girls' basketball, once in football and thrice in wrestling. In total, Arlee has brought home 16 state trophies in five sports — boys' and girls' basketball, football, softball and wrestling — since 2007-08.
Arlee won't be the smallest Class B school when it moves up, based off of current numbers. According to Beckman, Class B schools Rocky Boy, Choteau, Shelby, Troy, Joliet, Forsyth and Fairfield all have smaller enrollments than Arlee.
Arlee isn't a stranger to Class B foes.
Last season, the Warriors topped Rocky Boy, Harlem and St. Ignatius in basketball. The Scarlets faced Rocky Boy and St. Ignatius last year, beating St. Ignatius twice and losing to Rocky Boy once.
Not everything will be different for Arlee come 2019-20.
The Warrior football team will remain playing 8-Man football in Class C, as Arlee's enrollment is still not high enough to reach the 11-man cut off. The enrollment cutoff for Class C 8-Man football is 130. Arlee's two-year average is just one under that.
"11-Man football would be really hard for us," Bartels said. "We'd like to stay 8-Man football, but I think everywhere else we should be OK."
Arlee's softball co-op with St. Ignatius and Charlo — otherwise known as MAC — will not be affected by the change, since softball's classes B and C are combined for competition.
But for the other sports, 2018-19 will be a transitional year.
Bartels said instead of having Missoula's Valley Christian, a Class C school, on the schedule for basketball next year, the Warriors and Scarlets will be playing Class B's Loyola Sacred Heart.
"They're excited to play Loyola next year," Bartels said of her student-athletes' anticipation to play the Rams and the Breakers. "It also being a local team is kind of nice. They know a lot of players from down there. I think it will be really fun for us to dip our toes in slowly."
The Loyola matchup in basketball is a new one, but the Scarlets traditionally play the Breakers in volleyball at least every other year. Bartels said Arlee's volleyball team will play Loyola in the regular season this year.
Arlee will also play Class B's St. Ignatius in basketball and volleyball next season, but that's another typical matchup for the schools, Bartels said.
Basketball will also have more Class B opponents next year too with the Native American Classic. That tournament, which was in Pablo last year at Salish Kootenai College, will be moving back to Havre next year, Bartels said.
Bartels also said that Poplar (Class B) and Hays-Lodge Pole (Class C) will be back in the field for 2018.
"That will be really exciting for the tournament," Bartels said. "We lost them to the southern native tournament just because travel to us here in Pablo was a little bit lengthy."