The growth of youth football in Ellsworth will take another step forward this fall with the establishment of a club team for high school-aged players.
“As of now, we’ve already got 25 kids registered to play,” said Duane Crawford, a board member of the privately funded Ellsworth Football who also will serve as head coach of the high school club team.
“We expect another 15 or 20 kids will come out as the season gets closer, and we’ve budgeted for 45 kids anyway.”
Much of that initial roster will come from approximately 15 players who competed at the eighth-grade level last fall and will be moving on to Ellsworth High School in September.
Also eligible to join the high school club team will be interested players from nearby Sumner Memorial High School in East Sullivan which, like Ellsworth, is a member of Regional School Unit 24.
Maintaining a club team at the high school level for a minimum of two years is one of the prerequisites established by the Maine Principals’ Association for teams to join the varsity ranks, meaning if Ellsworth competes at the club level in 2010 and 2011 it could apply for admission to Eastern Maine Class B as soon as 2012.
“I think that as long as the townspeople of RSU 24 know that it’s not costing them any money because of the support of boosters, they’ll be in favor of this,” Crawford said.
Crawford, who has coaching experience as an assistant at Mount Desert Island High School, will be assisted on the Ellsworth sidelines by former MDI head coach George “Toogie” McKay.
“He coached me when I was in high school,” said Crawford. “He knows so much about the game, and it’s great to have someone as experienced as he is involved.”
The new club team for high schoolers already has a controlled scrimmage scheduled at Hermon after the first week of preseason practices in August, as well as a game at Washington Academy of East Machias on Sept. 17. Both Hermon and WA are club programs.
Crawford hopes to round out his team’s schedule with contests against subvarsity teams from around the region.
“We’re waiting for the JV schedules to come out,” said Crawford. “We want to try to keep it local as much as we can.”
Last year, the privately funded EFL fielded teams for three age groups, third- and fourth-graders, fifth- and sixth-graders, and seventh- and eighth-graders, involving about 100 players total.
“Nearly all of the kids who played last year weren’t doing anything before for a fall sport,” said Crawford. “Out of the 100 who were playing, probably 10 were soccer players and they continued to play both.”
Last year’s EFL teams played full schedules, Crawford said, and the seventh- and eighth-grade program will benefit this fall from joining the Eastern Maine Middle School League, which provides a seven-game regular-season slate.
The EFL teams will practice and play home games this year at the Lamoine Field after playing on a smaller site behind the Family Bible Church in Ellsworth last fall.
The EFL raised some $35,000 to get its youth program off the ground last fall, and hopes to raise $45,000 more this year in order to finish outfitting the anticipated 140 to 145 players in grades 3-12 while also completing the purchase of such field equipment as blocking sleds and tackling dummies.
As part of that fundraising effort, the league has scheduled a benefit dinner May 22 beginning at 6 p.m., at the Masonic Hall in Ellsworth. Prime rib and seafood Newburg are the featured entrees, with entertainment provided after dinner by Down East Elvis. Tickets are $25 each and may be purchased at The First in Ellsworth and at Friends & Family Market in Ellsworth Falls.