BLUE HILL, Maine — Hancock County will not have its own American Legion baseball team for the first time in more than three decades this summer.
The Acadians, a fixture in the Zone 1 ranks for the last 32 years, will not field a team when the 2012 season begins June 16.
“The first big issue was lack of participation,” said Dan Kane, who along with fellow George Stevens Academy coach Bill Gray organized and ran the Acadians’ Legion program in recent years.
The Acadians drew players from several high school programs: George Stevens, Ellsworth, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Sumner of East Sullivan, Narraguagus of Harrington and Deer Isle-Stonington.
Ellsworth and MDI, both Class B high school programs, were the biggest schools in that drawing area, but few players from those schools had played for the Acadians in the last couple of years.
“We had one player from last year’s MDI team on the Legion squad, along with two kids who had come back from college,” Kane said. “And we had no kids from Ellsworth, and those are two very competitive Class B teams.
“The key for us is we have to have players from all schools participating. We’ve had great representation from the Blue Hill area the last few years, but we need a few kids from Ellsworth and a few kids from MDI every year, and we need kids from Narraguagus, Sumner and Deer Isle-Stonington.”
Two years ago the Acadians had a roster of 17 players, but while the team started with 16 players last summer that number gradually dwindled to the point where the Acadians had barely enough players to finish its regular-season schedule.
Kane suggested that while baseball is strong at the youth level in the major communities within the Acadians’ drawing area, at the high school level the athletes’ summer commitments often lead them to focus more on other sports such as soccer and basketball.
A compressed American Legion regular-season schedule — teams played 21 games in approximately five weeks last summer — also proved challenging in drawing players with other athletic or job commitments to summer baseball.
“Trying to play so many games in a short period of time is tough,” said Kane. “You have to make such a major commitment, you really have to love baseball.”
The Acadians also faced fundraising challenges in recent years since a local Legion post dropped its financial support of the team. Most Legion teams statewide are now privately funded.
Kane, who will team with Gray to coach a Junior League baseball team this summer, hopes the absence of a Hancock County American Legion team this year will spark a renewed interest that could lead to the return the return of a team from the area to those ranks as soon as 2013.
In the meantime, players who were eligible to play for the Acadians now may try out with the Brewer American Legion team, according to Zone 1 commissioner Dave Paul. If there are no open roster spots with Brewer, those players may try out for the Motor City team, he added.
The loss of the Acadians reduces this year’s Zone 1 field to seven teams — Bangor, Brewer, Calais, Hampden, Lincoln Lumber, Motor City of Bangor and Penquis of Dover-Foxcroft.
Each team will play an 18-game regular-season schedule running from June 16 to July 20, with seven-inning single games on Mondays and Wednesdays and nine-inning games on Fridays and Sundays — and no games on Saturday, a change from previous years.
The season will commence with a tripleheader on Saturday, June 16, at the Winkin Complex on the campus of Husson University in Bangor. Motor City will face Lincoln Lumber at noon, followed by Hampden against Penquis at 4 p.m. and Bangor against Brewer at 7 p.m.
“We thought this would be a nice way to kick off the Legion season, by bringing the teams together,” Paul said.
Calais, which was scheduled to open its season against the Acadians, will now have an opening-day bye.
Five teams will qualify for the Zone 1 tournament to be held at Husson with a play-in game between the fourth and fifth seeds on Sunday, July 22, followed by a four-team, double-elimination format that runs July 23-26.