The state’s high school football world will have yet another new varsity program this fall, as Washington Academy of East Machias has opted to make the leap from club status beginning with the 2011 season.
Washington Academy, which has fielded a club team for the past four years, will become the 77th school with varsity football in the state and the 13th member of the LTC, which represents Eastern Maine Class C.
WA’s decision was formalized during the last two weeks following two lengthy meetings among school administrators, football staff and other interested parties to determine if the Raiders were ready to make the move to varsity status.
“We knew at the end of last season that it was a make-or-break time for us,” said Barry Terrill, who has been WA’s head football coach for the last two years. “We’d been doing this for four years now and knew a decision had to be made, but we took the conservative approach because we wanted to make sure we were ready.”
The Raiders typically have fielded a player roster in the mid to upper 20s, Terrill said, but the team has had increasing difficulty putting together a consistent club schedule.
“The kids have been putting in a varsity-level commitment and haven’t been getting a fair schedule back in return,” said Terrill. “The feedback we’ve gotten from them about making the move was pretty overwhelming, they want to be part of a varsity sport.”
Terrill and WA athletic administrator Blaine Steeves said one point of emphasis crucial to the long-term success of the football program will be to establish a feeder system, initially in the local middle-school ranks.
“That’s something we’re going to be very aggressive about this spring,” said Steeves.
The varsity football team will share a lighted game field with the school’s soccer teams, meaning the Raiders could play their home games on Friday nights.
Steeves said among logistics that need to be worked out in advance of the coming season are seating at the game field and developing a larger practice field.
WA will join Hermon as new varsity programs in what will be a 13-team LTC in 2011, compared to 12 teams in 2010.
Old Town, a Class B school by enrollment that played in the LTC for the last three years in an effort to preserve its program, will return to Class B this fall.
Another Class C program, Rockland, is merging with Georges Valley of Thomaston this fall and the combined school — to be known as Oceanside High School — also will move to Class B in football.
That left the conference with 10 teams, but Winslow is dropping from Class B to the LTC by enrollment this fall, and the additions of WA and Hermon will bring the league to 13 teams.
This year’s LTC field will have the following schools: Bucksport, Calais-Woodland, Dexter, Foxcroft Academy, Hermon, John Bapst of Bangor, Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Mount View of Thorndike, Orono, Stearns of Millinocket, Washington Academy and Winslow.
How the LTC’s 2011 schedule will be set up remains to be determined, because there are few, if any, templates for a 13-team master schedule.
LTC secretary-treasurer Mike Archer, athletic administrator at Orono, said a meeting of conference officials is planned Thursday at MCI in an effort to forge a proposed schedule in advance of the LTC’s annual meeting on March 2.
Those expected to attend Thursday’s meeting include former Winslow athletic administrator Sean Keenan, who oversaw an 11-team schedule employed by the Pine Tree Conference’s Class B division several years ago.
At least two scheduling options will be under consideration. One would have five teams play an eight-game regular-season schedule while the remaining teams play a seven-game slate, leading to an eight-team regional playoff.
Another option would have all 13 teams play an eight-game schedule over a nine-week regular season, with each team having one bye week. That would be followed by a four-team regional playoff format.
It’s possible the need for a 13-team schedule will be for just one year, as Ellsworth High School will be eligible to seek varsity status for the 2012 season.