AUGUSTA — The Maine high school football landscape will continue to feature three classes, at least for the next two years.
The Maine Principals’ Association football committee voted Thursday to put off a proposal to expand to four classes beginning in 2011, instead opting to keep the status quo for the next two-year cycle. It also committed to continue studying the possibility of adding a fourth class to address the growing number of football-playing schools in the state and to narrow the enrollment divide between the smallest and largest schools in each class.
“I think it was a very open process,” said Mike Bisson, chairman of the committee and principal of the Burr Elementary School in Lincoln. “We got a great deal of feedback about this, and we really appreciate the passion people have for football in Maine. I think we have some great ideas to look at over the next two years as we try to come up with a different proposal.”
The four-class proposal gained considerable momentum earlier this year, with some 70 percent of the state’s football-playing schools indicating their support in a survey conducted by the MPA.
But as schools began focusing more on the topic as football season arrived in August, concerns began to arise among individual schools and some of the conferences that play a primary role in governing the sport in Maine.
The MPA’s classification committee, which is working on its biennial reclassfication of teams in all Maine interscholastic sports, tabled football classification in late September at the request of the football committee. That led to an Oct. 27 meeting of representatives from football-playing schools around the state to discuss their concerns.
The results of that meeting, combined with the need to provide the classification committee its recommendation soon in order for the reclassification process to be completed, ultimately led the football committee to retain the current format for the next two years.
“The Oct. 27 meeting gave us a lot of good feedback and some new ideas to think about,” said Bisson. “We thought it was a really short timetable for us to pursue some of those recommendations and get them into place for this coming fall, so we decided to table it and study it over the next two years to try to get something together that’s feasible, knowing that the number of teams is going to change in the next two years.
“We have some teams that may be combining, we might have some attrition and we might have some additions depending on how the economy goes and whether schools are willing to fund football for some of the new programs. There’s a lot of question marks right now, and hopefully we’ll have a clearer picture two years from now.”
Issues raised at that meeting included the survivability of several new or struggling programs under the proposed format, as well as the planned three-division format for a new Class AA involving the state’s largest football-playing schools. That might have resulted in Eastern Maine not being represented in the state final in a given year.
“Most people were on board with the four-class concept,” Bisson said, “but when you get down to the specifics and you see how it’s really going to affect a league or a region or a school, I think that’s where some of the pushback came from.”
The football committee did approve a recommendation to the classification committee that would break down the three classes for the next two years by the following enrollments: Class A, 775-plus; Class B, 500-774; and Class C, 0-499.
If approved by the classification committee and ultimately by the full MPA membership at its 2011 spring conference, those enrollment cutoffs would result in the switch of several schools to different classes.
Brewer, with its enrollment of 750 as of April 1, and Mt. Blue of Farmington (746) would move from Eastern Maine Class A to Eastern B; Rockland and Georges Valley of Thomaston, which are merging into Oceanside High School next fall, would be placed in Eastern B with a combined enrollment of 692 after Rockland previously competed as a solo entry in Class C; Morse of Bath (684) would move from Eastern B to Western B; Old Town, a Class B school by its enrollment of 560 that voluntarily played in Class C the last three years in an effort to preserve its once-struggling program, would return to Eastern B; and Winslow (459) would shift from Eastern B to Eastern C.
In Western Maine, Westbrook (769) and Marshwood of South Berwick (766) would move from Class A to Class B, Mountain Valley of Rumford (479) and Wells (452) would shift from Class B to Class C and Madison-Carrabec (561) would move from Class C to Class B.
Schools still may apply to compete at a level higher or lower than their enrollments indicate for the next two years, though teams now playing down a class are not eligible for postseason play.
The MPA expects to have 76 schools fielding varsity football programs next fall, including two additions. Hermon High School, which played a developmental schedule for the last two seasons, recently submitted paperwork to join the varsity ranks in 2011, according to MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham, while Telstar of Bethel also is expected to seek varsity status. Two other potential newcomers, Washington Academy of East Machias and Monmouth Academy, have not yet made their intentions known.
Both Hermon, at 531 a Class B school under the recommended enrollment cutoffs, and Telstar (276) likely would play in Class C during their first two seasons of varsity competition.