The Van Buren baseball program has experienced considerable success despite fielding a small number of players for several years.
Just three seasons ago, the Crusaders reached the Eastern Maine Class D final despite having just nine players on the roster — and a year earlier they earned the No. 1 seed in Eastern D while also suiting up just its starting lineup.
But with numbers down again this spring, Van Buren has opted to take the 2009 season off in hopes of fielding a full team again next year.
“I thought we might have enough,” said Van Buren athletic administrator Sue Parent, “but with the economy the way it is a lot of the kids are working, and you can’t blame them for that, so we’ll put it off for a year and try another year.”
Many Van Buren youngsters seek work during the spring months after devoting the autumn to the school’s most popular sport, soccer, and then playing basketball during the winter.
And, like many northern Maine schools, declining enrollment has been a constant in recent years. The school’s current enrollment is 136, down more than 10 percent from 151 barely a year ago on April 1, 2008.
Van Buren also has a successful tennis program during the spring sports season that may draw away potential baseball players.
“Some years we’ve had a small amount of kids on the baseball team, 10 or 11,” said Parent. “I’ve always felt that with 11 kids we could do it, but this year we didn’t have that, and going ahead with the season was too risky if we wanted to ensure we could have a team next year.”
Parent first contacted the Maine Principals’ Association about three weeks ago to notify the sanctioning body that Van Buren might have difficulty fielding a team, and communications continued until the decision was made final.
Had Van Buren started its regular season and not been able to complete its schedule, it would not have been able to field a team for the next two seasons under MPA rules.
Parent is optimistic turnout won’t be an issue next spring, when nine or 10 baseball-playing eighth-graders will join the high school ranks.
“It just happened to be one of those years,” Parent said. “But we have a lot of kids coming up, and we just wanted to ensure that those kids would have a chance to play next year and by stepping back this year we’ll be able to do it.”
Wrestling changes modified
Class C wrestling could follow the lead of Class D cheering next winter, with regional championship tournaments in Eastern and Western Maine replaced by a single qualifying meet for the state tournament.
That was the recommendation of the classification committee of the MPA, which voted to back a proposal made Wednesday by the MPA’s wrestling committee, according to MPA assistant executive director Jeff Sturgis.
The proposal still faces a final vote of the full MPA membership at its spring conference April 30-May 1 at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.
Class D cheering currently has nine teams that compete in a qualifying meet, with the top eight performers at that meet advancing to the state championships.
Under the proposed format for Class C wrestling, all teams will gather in the same location for a meet that will qualify the top eight wrestlers in each weight class for the state meet to be held the following weekend.
Team champions also will be crowned at the qualifying meet and the top four finishers in each weight class will earn medals.
Sturgis expects approximately 150 wrestlers to compete in next year’s Class C qualifying meet, with between nine and 13 wrestlers expected in each of the 14 weight classes based on data from this year’s two Class C regionals.
The change to a single qualifying meet is an effort to address a disparity between the number of teams in Eastern and Western C.
In recent years, Western C has had few full wrestling teams compared to the East. That meant top teams in Western C were almost guaranteed to qualify nearly all their wrestlers for the state meet, greatly enhancing their chances of winning a state title.
This season, for instance, just four full teams — Lisbon, Dirigo of Dixfield, Madison and Monmouth Academy — competed for the Western C title, compared to approximately a dozen full teams in Eastern C.
As a result, the Western C regional required just 33 bouts to qualify wrestlers for the state meet, compared to 178 bouts required to qualify wrestlers from the Eastern C regional to the state meet.
The top four wrestlers from each of 14 weight classes qualified for the states, but in Western C there were three or fewer wrestlers in 11 of the 14 weight classes.
MPA officials originally sought to equal out the number of teams in Eastern and Western C, but a proposal to shift Bucksport, John Bapst of Bangor, Calvary Chapel of Orrington and George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill from the East to the West drew considerable opposition on geographic grounds.
Under the new proposal, Sturgis hopes the MPA will be able to schedule the Class C qualifying meet in one region and the state meet in the opposite region next year, so long as suitable facilities can be found in each region that allow for the use of three wrestling mats.
Other classification changes
Several minor changes for reclassification in Maine high school sports gained support Thursday when the classification committee of the MPA met in Augusta.
These changes, according to Sturgis, are designed in most cases to balance the number of teams between Eastern and Western Maine.
Among the proposed changes, which are subject to final approval by the full MPA membership later this month, include the following:
Islesboro from Western C to Eastern C in cross country;
Leavitt of Turner Center from Eastern A to Western B in soccer, basketball, baseball and softball;
Gardiner, Leavitt, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and Winslow from Eastern B to Western B in cheering;
Gardiner from Eastern B to Western B in ice hockey;
Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield to remain in Eastern B wrestling, after initially being reclassified to Class C;
Gardiner and Morse of Bath from Eastern B to Western B in tennis; and
Medomak Valley to remain in Eastern B in wrestling. An earlier proposal had the Panthers moving to Western B.