ELLSWORTH, Maine — Varsity football will return to the Ellsworth area for the first time since the 1950s this fall after the RSU 24 board of directors on Tuesday evening approved a proposal to field a team representing Ellsworth and Sumner high schools.
“I think it’s a great day for the school,” said Jay Brown, Ellsworth High’s athletic administrator. “It’s something we’ve been building toward for a few years, and while it might be a year sooner than expected it’s something we’re really excited about.”
Ellsworth and Sumner of East Sullivan, both members of RSU 24, had a subvarsity team last fall after a season of club football for high school-age players through the separate Ellsworth Football League program in 2010.
The high school team had expected to play one more season against subvarsity competition before joining the varsity ranks at the start of the Maine Principals’ Association’s next two-year classification cycle beginning in 2013.
But when Calais-Woodland decided earlier this month not to field a varsity team in 2012, a spot opened for Ellsworth-Sumner within the LTC in Eastern Maine Class C.
“We’ve really only been in existence for four years since starting out as a feeder program,” said Ellsworth-Sumner coach Duane Crawford, a founder of the Ellsworth Football League. “I don’t think at the time any of us expected we’d be a varsity program in four years, but I think we’re ready for it.”
Ellsworth-Sumner will take Calais-Woodland’s spot in the 2012 LTC master schedule, according to Orono High School athletic administrator Mike Archer, the conference’s secretary-treasurer, and will open its season Aug. 31 at Foxcroft Academy.
Because it is joining the varsity ranks in the middle of the MPA’s two-year classification cycle, Ellsworth-Sumner will have the option of remaining in Class C for either one year or three years as a new program before being reclassified to a higher class based on enrollment.
The team will not be eligible for postseason play during that one- or three-year period in the LTC because it is not a Class C school by enrollment, according to MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham.
“I’m really excited for the program and for the kids to get this chance,” said Crawford, who expects the Ellsworth-Sumner high school varsity and junior varsity teams to have approximately 45 players this fall.
“We thought it was going to be another year, which we were OK with because it would have given us another year of experience, but this gives us a chance to go in this year, play a varsity schedule and then figure out where we’ll go from there.”
The privately funded Ellsworth-Sumner program will draw not only from current players at the two schools but ultimately from the Ellsworth Football League feeder program. That program provides football for area youths in grades three through eight and last fall had approximately 80 players, Crawford said, with about 30 at both the seventh- and eighth-grade level and the fifth- and sixth-grade level and nearly 20 players in grades three and four.
“I think they’re doing it the right way,” said Archer of the establishment of a youth football program in the area before Ellsworth-Sumner pursued varsity status.
The Ellsworth-Sumner high school program has an on-campus field with lights at Ellsworth High School where it will play its varsity home games. While Calais-Woodland played home games on Saturday afternoons, the Ellsworth-Sumner entry will play its home games on Friday nights, beginning Sept. 7, during Week 2 of the regular season against Bucksport.
After playing its first two games against Foxcroft and Bucksport, the rest of Ellsworth-Sumner’s 2012 schedule is: Week 3 at Hermon, Week 4 at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Week 5 vs. Washington Academy of East Machias, Week 6 at Orono, Week 7 vs. John Bapst of Bangor, and Week 8 vs. Mount View of Thorndike.
Before preseason practices begin in mid-August, plans call for a storage building/radio tower to be built at the football field, as well as the procurement of bleacher seating.
Crawford said additional assistant coaches also will need to be hired.
Ellsworth High School was one of the founding members of the LTC in 1951 and fielded a varsity team for several years before dropping the sport later in the decade because of a lack of participation.