High School sports will see changes

Posted Dec. 31, 2009, at 10:25 p.m.

I’m not one who believes that with the start of 2010 comes a new decade — the 10th year of this decade to me ends Dec. 31, 2010.

But the “controversy” does provide an excuse to ponder what’s to come over the next 10 years, particularly as it pertains to high school sports in Maine.

I expect a significant reduction in the number of high schools statewide over the next decade as the consolidation movement continues to evolve, student enrollment continues to shrink, and economic factors continue to force tough decisions from the educational community.

Fewer schools will mean fewer starting opportunities, which will lead to the continued growth of club sports as an alternative.

Fewer schools — and the increased distances between them — may spur a shift in the current organizational grid of interscholastic sports toward more localized competition.

Teams would play more neighbors regardless of enrollment classification, a further regionalization that could open up other opportunities.

Perhaps the northern Maine football programs that compete on their own will join the Maine Principals’ Association varsity ranks. A sub-regional format for football based on geography would allow those northern teams to continue their current regular-season schedule and use that to qualify its best teams for regional playoffs.

Whether or not that happens, high school football will expand from three to four classes during the next decade. The sport’s growth in Maine continues to defy the shaky economic climate, with two or three teams joining the varsity ranks every two or three years.

In Eastern Maine alone, Hermon, Washington Academy and Ellsworth are among areas in varying stages of developing football, and as the roster of teams statewide continues to approach 80 — 74 varsity teams competed in 2009 — the call for a fourth class will grow louder.

Another call that will grow louder will be for the addition of a private school athletic division within the MPA’s ranks.

Economic reality is causing many town academies and private schools within the MPA to expand their international student programs. Dormitories have been built in some locales, and more and more international students not only add considerable diversity to the educational experience but considerable money to each school’s coffers.

And as those schools further differentiate themselves from their public-school rivals in academic offerings due to the availability of those extra tuition dollars, such funding also may lead to a similar trend in athletics.

Not all change in Maine high school athletics will stem from economic and demographic factors during the next decade.

Artificial-turf will become a much more common sight as schools weigh comparative maintenance costs of grass and turf fields along with the opportunity to get greater use out of turf fields that are less susceptible to weather and general wear for a much longer part of the year.

More turf will lead to more sports offerings. Lacrosse, already a hit in southern Maine, will continue to spread during the coming decade. The sport reaches as far north as Camden Hills of Rockport and Mt. Blue of Farmington, but that line eventually will disappear once several northern schools opt to take the plunge, likely at the same time.

And, finally, who knows, we may live long enough to see a new Bangor Auditorium after all — though seeing truly is believing.

eclark@bangordailynews.net

990-8045

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