ROCKLAND, Maine — There are a few observable signs of generations past as the spring sports teams at Oceanside High School continue their first week of preseason practices.
A few of the junior varsity baseball players leaving school for the day wear Rockland or Georges Valley of Thomaston caps that were an integral part of their uniforms just a year earlier.
And the walls of the school’s east campus gymnasium bear images of the Rockland Tiger and the Georges Valley Buccaneer — mascots of the two neighboring schools that consolidated last summer to form Oceanside — as well as banners recognizing state championships won by each program as a separate entity.
While those tributes recall the pride of previous successes, much of the focus these days within the walls of Oceanside East — the former Rockland District High School that houses grades 10-12 of the consolidated enterprise — and Oceanside West — the former Georges Valley High School that houses students in grades eight and nine — is on the present and the future.
The orange and black of Rockland and green and white of Georges Valley have evolved into the blue and sky blue of Oceanside, both in the school hallways and on the uniforms of the Mariners’ student-athletes.
“The consolidation is kind of in the past now,” said Dylan Maloney, a senior from Cushing and a former Georges Valley student who now plays soccer, basketball and baseball for Oceanside. “We’ve pretty much formed a brand-new school.”
Perhaps nowhere are the full effects of school consolidation more apparent than in the athletic department where athletes from both schools — often fierce rivals in their youth sports days — have been thrust into being teammates.
“I wasn’t thrilled about it a year ago today,” said Drew Townsend, a junior soccer and baseball player from Thomaston. “I was a big Georges Valley guy, a Buccaneer, and I was totally against it. I didn’t want to come over here, I didn’t want to come into this building. I didn’t want to be a Mariner, I wanted to remain a Buccaneer. But once it got going and I felt it out and got used to it, I guess I grew into it.
“I like being a Mariner now.”
Townsend’s sentiments are common among Oceanside’s student-athletes, any initial reticence to consolidation replaced by gradual acceptance and now enthusiasm both for the united school and its collective teams.
“It’s been really smooth,” said Hannah Sirois, a senior from Rockland who competes in soccer and track for Oceanside. “It’s been said over and over again that the students have really been the ones who have made it go so smoothly, and I personally have made so many new friends. Everyone’s gotten along really well, socially everyone’s really happy. It’s expanded our social groups a lot and it’s been really, really pleasant — awesome, actually.”
The bonding of the Rockland and Georges Valley athletic programs got a head start in the fall of 2010 when the schools fielded a cooperative field hockey team.
Oceanside baseball coach Don Shields, also a longtime radio broadcaster in the midcoast area, believes that prelude to full athletic consolidation proved valuable.
“It just broke the ice and told the kids that this wasn’t a taboo thing and that kids from Georges Valley and Rockland could work together,” he said.
The synthesis of the athletic programs has led to considerable success at the varsity level. Oceanside’s boys and girls soccer teams, field hockey team and boys and girls basketball teams all qualified for postseason play, and there is optimism for similar success in spring sports such as baseball, softball and tennis.
“I’m sure there was some tension early on for some of the kids,” said Oceanside athletic administrator Jim Leonard. “But the beauty of fall sports is that we had summer soccer and summer field hockey, the football team played seven on seven and had a summer camp, so in a lot of respects the kids had already met each other before they started school.
“Things started working out almost immediately, and the fall athletic season was really quite successful. We had lots of people at the events, we had a cross country meet here for the first time in 20 years, both soccer teams did really well and I think what that did was set the stage for the winter and the winter teams built off that.”
There was competition for starting positions and varsity roster spots in several sports where both Rockland and Georges Valley both previously fielded teams, but that ultimately served to make the finished product stronger.
“There was definitely some competition out there, but it motivated people to work way harder because we had to prove we were better, and because of that everyone improved a lot,” said Sirois.
“We had almost 50 girls in the soccer program this year, and my junior year we almost didn’t have a team. In the three years I went to Rockland we only had a varsity team, but this year we had freshman, JV and varsity teams, so the program was full, a lot of girls were really interested and that made it even more fun.”
The addition of new subvarsity teams in several sports — including soccer, basketball, baseball and tennis — reflects a general increase in the number of students participating in athletics where as separate entities Rockland and Georges Valley some sports didn’t have enough players to field a junior varsity or freshman team which develops future varsity talent.
“The numbers are up dramatically,” said Leonard, “For instance, we added freshman soccer for both boys and girls, and two years ago I was advertising in Village Soup for varsity girls players. The soccer program grew from about 15 total at Rockland two years ago to about 60 kids now.
“Clearly the winter numbers were up, the fall numbers were up, and we’re looking for the spring numbers to be up.”
Among other sports experiencing growth is baseball. Last year the Rockland and Georges Valley baseball teams had fewer than 30 players combined, with all competing at the varsity level — even freshmen with no high school experience.
This spring’s Oceanside baseball roster numbered 36 players as of Tuesday afternoon, enough for a full varsity team, a full junior varsity squad and additional plans to develop a freshman baseball schedule.
“Last year we had 15 kids and didn’t have a subvarsity team,” said Shields, who had coached at Georges Valley for the past three years, “and of those 15 kids there were a few who really weren’t varsity ready but had to be with the varsity and practice with them and couldn’t really get game ready.
“This year we’ll have a full freshman/JV team that will have 18 to 20 kids, our varsity team will be 14 kids strong, and a lot of the kids on the varsity will already have played varsity the last two or three years. It’s phenomenal [having] enough kids to have two teams, and now I’m not going to be forced to bring a freshman up who may not be ready to play varsity baseball yet in Class B.”
Players who might have been force-fed into the varsity level as a first-year student at their previous high school see the addition of subvarsity programs providing both individual and team benefits.
“I think it’s going to be extremely valuable,” said Townsend. “I was thrown onto varsity teams as a freshman, maybe because we didn’t have numbers or maybe because I deserved it, but I definitely think a couple of years at the JV level helps because going from middle school to varsity is a pretty big jump.
“And having a farm system under the varsity level is going to help kids develop.”
There also are new opportunities for athletes in sports their previous school did not offer. Georges Valley didn’t offer football or track, while Rockland didn’t field a boys tennis team last spring.
“Georges Valley didn’t really have a track team before, they had one boy who came over and practiced with us, so it’s people are getting more exposed to track and really liking it,” said Sirois. “Now the numbers have definitely increased on the track team.”
Most of the lingering issues regarding the athletic consolidation effort are logistical, Leonard said, such as the scheduling of facilities on the two campuses and making sure there are buses ready to take athletes from one campus to the other after school depending on where a given team holds its practices.
Leonard also continues to work out middle-school sports scheduling, a task made challenging by the fact that RSU 13’s eighth- and ninth-graders attend Oceanside West while sixth- and seventh-graders attend three different schools in Rockland, St. George and Thomaston.
“There have been some bumps in the road this year we’ve had to deal with, but we’re learning as we go and the learning is not over,” he said.
“I think I anticipated far more problems of a significant nature, but we haven’t had that this year and that’s due to the kids. They’ve been great ambassadors for the Blue and Sky, and I just can’t say enough about the kids here being the force behind this transition.”