Times have been tough for the Brewer High School football program.
Not long after winning the 2005 Class B state championship, the Witches were reclassified by enrollment back to Class A.
So instead of being one of the larger schools in a smaller class, the Witches became the smallest of the big boys, often playing against schools with several hundred more students.
Brewer has gone just 4-20 since returning to Class A in 2007, a struggle that was exacerbated this spring when economic realities resulted in cutting freshman football and de-funding the middle school program.
“There’s just been so many distractions that this program has gone through over the past nine months with budget cuts and the loss of programs, and it wears on the kids,” said Brewer coach Don Farnham. “People don’t understand that when you drop a program like our freshman team or you de-fund your middle-school program, kids take that to heart and then they panic thinking that people don’t care about us.
“In the big picture it’s a budget thing and we’ll take on the challenges and we’ll get by, but we’ve had a lot of what I’ll call drama. We need to get rid of the drama, the outside influences on these kids, and just focus on us, the 64 guys in the locker room.”
Coming off a one-win campaign last fall, Brewer is not expected to be among the elite in Eastern Maine Class A this season.
Perhaps the biggest victory looming for the program may not come on the football field, but at the Maine Principals’ Association spring conference next April.
For when Brewer hosts Lawrence of Fairfield in its season opener next Friday, it could be starting its final year in the state’s largest-school football class for the foreseeable future.
A proposal to expand the state’s high school football ranks from three to four classes is working its way through MPA committees, and if approved could take effect with the start of the 2011 season.
With an enrollment of 750 as of April 1, 2010 — an enrollment three students less than the 753 who attend Class B football neighbor Hampden Academy — Brewer would drop into the second of the four classes.
And while there’s some pride inherent in competing at the top level, Farnham understands the long- range benefits inherent with squaring off against true peers.
“As much as I’m a competitor and could care less if it’s the New England Patriots or anyone else across the line from us, I want to compete,” he said. “But over the years we don’t have many wins even though our guys play very hard. We just don’t have the depth the bigger schools have.
“For some of the smaller schools like ourselves and Mt. Blue [of Farmington], it’s really hard to compete year in and year out. I never thought I would say that four or five years ago, but I see it in the numbers and I see it in the kids saying they don’t want to come out and play because they’re sick of losing or they’re sick of getting beat up.”
Reclassification by itself may not change that, but it should land the Witches on a more level playing field for their football future.
“It’s always good to play against better teams because it makes you better,” said Brewer quarterback Dylan Oxley, “but it gets to the point where it’s good to play against schools that are your size. It just makes for a better game.”