A four-year push to bring varsity football to Camden Hills Regional High School came to fruition Wednesday night when the Five Town Community School District board voted to elevate the Windjammers from club status beginning next fall.
“Last night represented the end of the beginning,” said Camden Hills football coach Linwood Downs, whose team will compete in the Pine Tree Conference Class B ranks. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, the kids, the coaches and community groups, but everyone is excited about the opportunity.”
There was some discussion during the meeting about adding a varsity sport at a time when schools are being forced to make significant cuts in their overall budgets.
The school district, which serves Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport, will provide modest financial support for the football program for the first time next fall, but the majority of the funding will come from Five Towns Football, a group formed in 2005 to develop football in the area, and a group of community businesses that have pledged to support the effort.
“We’ve worked pretty hard to put together a first-rate program,” said Downs, “and I think the school board recognized that.”
Five Towns Football also owns all the football equipment used by the high school club team, and the varsity squad will continue to use that equipment, Downs said.
What hasn’t been determined is where the Windjammers will play their home games. Under consideration is the Don Palmer Field on campus that currently is home to the school’s soccer teams, and the Camden Snow Bowl athletic field where the football program has played in recent years.
What is now the Camden Hills varsity football program began in 2005 with teams for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders as well as for seventh- and eighth-graders. The Five Towns Football youth program last fall included more than 100 players in grades 1-8.
A private football club team for high school-aged players was added in 2006, with that club evolving into a school-sponsored club team in 2007.
That team has played a full club schedule for the last two years in accordance with Maine Principals’ Association directive for admittance to varsity competition.
When the PTC Class B was left with just 11 teams last fall, the Windjammers got a head start on varsity competition by playing a full schedule of non-countable games against conference foes as a de facto 12th team.
“We’re satisfied that it was a good decision to do that, because the kids learned a lot last year,” Downs said. “It’s an experience we’re glad we went through because the kids have experienced that learning curve and now know what they’ve got to do during the offseason.”
Last year’s high school team had 32 players, an increase of several players from the previous year, Downs said. Just two seniors will graduate from that squad, and 10 to 12 players will join the team next fall from the middle-school ranks.
“Every year we’ve picked up six, seven or eight players,” Downs said.
While next season’s team will be young, it will feature a group of juniors that is the first class to come through the feeder program from the seventh grade up.
“We should be more competitive this year,” said Downs. “As the kids go through the program we believe we will get stronger on a year-to-year basis.”
Camden Hills will be one of 10 teams in the PTC Class B ranks this fall, joining Belfast, Hampden Academy, Gardiner, Leavitt of Turner Center, Morse of Bath, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Nokomis of Newport, Waterville and Winslow.
Two teams that competed in the PTC Class B division last year, Maranacook of Readfield and Oak Hill of Sabattus, have dropped to Western Maine Class C beginning this fall due to enrollment changes.
The 2009 PTC Class B schedule and playoff format has yet to be determined, in part because the MPA currently is considering a series of cost-cutting recommendations that include reducing the number of countable games in each sport.
In football, the recommendation would reduce the regular-season schedule from a maximum of nine games to a maximum of eight.