The tentacles of a four-class proposal for football

By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 28, 2012, at 8:49 p.m.

Here are a few notes left over from Wednesday’s meeting of the Maine Principals’ Association football committee.

• A move to a four-class format for Maine high school football beginning next year would mean the addition of a fourth state championship game, and the MPA already has held preliminary discussions on at least two options for staging the final games of the season in what would be Classes A, B, C and D.

One option would keep all four games at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, where all football state finals have been held for the last 11 years. But instead of having all the games on Saturday, one game would be held on the Friday night before Super Saturday.

Another option would follow the lead of other sports such as soccer, baseball and softball that use multiple sites for their championship games, and hold two games in a southern locale — likely Fitzpatrick Stadium — while staging the other two finals at a more northern locale.

One desired northern site likely would be the University of Maine, which last hosted a state final in 1999 when South Portland defeated Oxford Hills of South Paris for the Class A crown. There could be scheduling conflicts, however, with UMaine home football games late in the season or with early season UMaine hockey games that would vie for the same parking spaces that would be needed for state championship football games.

Other college or high school sites with artificial turf also will be considered if a two-site solution is chosen.

• It’s interesting to note that the field of teams in Eastern Maine Class B as proposed in the four-class plan would include three of the four semifinalists in this year’s Eastern A playoff field. Two-time Eastern A champion Lawrence of Fairfield, Cony of Augusta and Messalonskee of Oakland all would be part of a powerhouse nine-team division that also includes three of the top four teams in this year’s final Eastern B regular-season standings — eventual state champion Mt. Blue of Farmington, Hampden Academy and Gardiner.

• The next school to join the varsity football ranks may come from Aroostook County. Houlton High School enjoyed a successful first season as a developmental team this fall, and MPA officials were told in a letter from school officials that the Shiretowners would be willing to join the varsity ranks as soon as next season if there is an opening.

Typically the MPA requires a new program to play two years of subvarsity competition in advance of joining the varsity ranks, though there have been exceptions — most recently Ellsworth-Sumner, which played in the LTC Class C for the first time this fall after Calais-Woodland suspended its program last spring due to a lack of players. Ellsworth-Sumner had just one year of formal developmental competition under its belt before making its varsity debut.

The MPA traditionally has preferred to bring new teams into their varsity football ranks in pairs to maintain an even number of teams in an effort to facilitate schedule making for the regular season.

Currently there are 76 teams playing varsity football, with fledgling programs in Houlton and Medomak Valley of Waldoboro on the horizon.

• Some concern has been expressed about the potential for the lack of a true Eastern Maine team in future Class A state championship games with the proposed move of Windham and Greater Portland entries Cheverus, Deering and Portland High School to the EM ranks under the four-class proposal.

According to current enrollment figures, Bangor would be the only Class A football school north of South Paris and one of just five Class A schools north of Windham — along with Brunswick, Edward Little of Auburn, Lewiston and Oxford Hills — in Class A under the format being proposed to take effect next fall.

The truth is it’s virtually impossible under any four-class format given the state’s current demographic makeup to guarantee a traditional Eastern Maine team a spot in the Class A final, even if Class A were to be divided into three divisions as was suggested in some quarters back in 2010.

• Two of the more unsung but perhaps most important regional changes involving individual schools made during Wednesday’s meeting in terms of program preservation were the shifts of Camden Hills of Rockport and Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston from Western Maine back to their traditional homes in the East.

Those two teams, which have had sluggish participation numbers in recent years, were penciled in at last August’s football committee meeting to compete in Western Maine Class B. That would have eliminated virtually all the football rivalries each has developed within the Pine Tree Conference and meant a travel-heavy schedule from the midcoast to face a schedule of opponents largely from Greater Portland (Falmouth, Greely of Cumberland Center and Westbrook) and beyond, including Marshwood of South Berwick, Kennebunk and Fryeburg Academy.

Instead, Oceanside was shifted to Eastern B, where the Mariners would face a rugged schedule but at least would be competing against schools its football predecessor, the former Rockland District High School, has battled in other sports as part of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference over the years.

A similar scenario now is in store for Camden Hills, which petitioned down to Class C but was placed back in Eastern Maine under the four-class proposal. The Windjammers’ schedule now would include the likes of neighboring Belfast, Waterville, Winslow and Nokomis of Newport, KVAC rivals they already face in other sports.

• Something to look out for is for any movement related to reported talk among several current football programs largely in Western Maine about forming their own “redevelopmental” league of sorts that would remove them at least temporarily from the traditional varsity ranks in their own effort at program preservation. Mike Burnham, assistant executive director of the MPA, said nothing formal has yet been presented to his organization in this regard but added that some informal conversations have been held.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/11/28/sports/the-tentacles-of-a-four-class-proposal-for-football/ printed on December 18, 2014