AUGUSTA, Maine — While the proposal to add a fourth class to the state’s high school football ranks beginning next fall has been met with considerable support in recent months, it remains a work in progress.
Two schools, Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston and Gorham, have filed appeals with the classification committee of the Maine Principals’ Association based on their placements within the four-class recommendation approved late last month by the MPA’s football committee.
The association’s classification committee will be next to consider the proposal, but its December meeting was postponed due to inclement weather, said MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham.
The classification committee now is scheduled to meet Jan. 3, but Burnham indicated Tuesday that the Oceanside and Gorham appeals might first be directed back to the football committee to see if they can be resolved at that level.
“The process provides opportunities for appeal, and this is another step in the process,” he said.
The four-class proposal faces additional scrutiny from the MPA’s interscholastic management committee before being subject to final approval by the association’s general membership in late March.
Oceanside, with an April 1 enrollment of 679, had been assigned to Western Maine Class B in the draft four-class proposal sent to schools for feedback in August.
Oceanside officials accepted that assignment, but when the football committee met again in late November the Mariners were moved from Western B to Eastern B due to geographic considerations and its membership in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in other sports along with several other proposed Eastern B members.
But Oceanside officials are more concerned about playing at a competitive level, and with two-time defending Eastern A champion Lawrence of Fairfield, Cony of Augusta, Messalonksee of Oakland and Skowhegan all set to drop from Eastern A to Eastern B under the current proposal, Western B — a division made up of more programs with enrollments similar to Oceanside — is seen as a more competitive option.
Oceanside would be the second-smallest school in the proposed Eastern B but would be in the middle of the pack in Western B.
“We made the decision to stay where we assigned, and then when the proposal came out we weren’t where we had been assigned,” said Oceanside athletic administrator Jim Leonard.
Adding to the issue is the fact that Oceanside recently completed just its second season of football since the school was formed by the merger of the former Rockland and Georges Valley of Thomaston high schools.
That has meant a larger combined enrollment for the new school but little difference yet in the number of football players from when Rockland competed as a Class C program. That’s because Georges Valley — a longtime soccer power — did not offer football so few of the current Oceanside players are from that side of the consolidation.
“We knew when we consolidated that football would be the last sport to be affected,” Leonard said. “We knew it would be five to seven years before we’d see some of those kids emerge at the high school level.
“The peewee and middle-school teams have picked up some kids, but it hasn’t manifested itself yet at the high school level.”
As a result, Oceanside has fielded one of the smaller rosters during its two years in the Pine Tree Conference Class B ranks under the current three-class format. The Mariners finished 3-5 last fall.
“When you look at a good Class B program you see 25 or 30 kids on the sideline ready to go, and those aren’t freshmen,” Leonard said. “Right now we’ve got a lot of kids on the sideline Friday night who are freshmen.
“We’re two or three years from having a roster that’s representative of a Class B program, but that’s the goal.”
Leonard said if Oceanside’s appeal to play in Western B isn’t approved, the school would petition to play in Class C for the next two-year classification cycle and forego the chance to qualify for postseason play.
“I have a lot of respect for the work the football committee has done,” he said. “But we want to protect the program and make sure it stays viable during this transition time.”
Gorham, with an April 1 enrollment of 853, had been penciled in as a Western B team in August, but when Class A Mount Ararat sought to play down a class — actually two classes, but it was allowed to move down just one — Gorham was moved up to Class A in an effort to even the number of teams in Eastern and Western A for scheduling purposes.
So instead of being the largest school by enrollment in Class B, Gorham currently is the third-smallest school statewide in Class A. Only Biddeford with 819 students and the private Cheverus High School of Portland with 519 students are smaller, but Cheverus traditionally competes in Class A in all sports while Biddeford previously indicated its interest in remaining in Class A.
Gorham, which won the Western A championship in 2006, finished 0-8 in Class A last year and has gone winless in two of the last three seasons.
Burnham said Gorham officials have indicated that if their appeal was unsuccessful the Rams would petition down to Class B and forego postseason eligibility.