June 24, 2018
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Traditional high school football rivalries may fade away

By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff

A few years ago, I'd get a kick out of my dad coming home from work at Fayscott Corp. in Dexter and telling me how all he heard all day long was how the Tigers were going to defeat Foxcroft Academy in whatever sport was being played at the time.

Since I played sports at Foxcroft at the time, the mill talk had a more personal meaning even though with us it really only pertained to basketball — I'm guessing the Dexter guys weren't all that concerned with how my cross country meets and tennis matches worked out.

That verbal jousting remains part of life in workplaces throughout Maine today, but save for the true surviving milltowns it isn't quite the same.

Neither are the rivalries.

The topic comes to mind because with the end of high school football's regular season this weekend comes the renewal of several of Maine's enduring rivalries.

Bangor-Brewer, Waterville-Winslow, Jay-Livermore Falls, Lewiston-Edward Little and Biddeford-Thornton Academy are just some of the games pitting neighbor against neighbor, even relative against relative.

Back in my dad's day, those rivalries were the focus of community pride — even an occasional wager was known to be placed.

But the nature of many such rivalries has changed since then as those same communities and schools have evolved into a new century.

Athletes from rival communities generally are much friendlier now. In many cases they become teammates during the offseason while playing club soccer, AAU basketball or American Legion baseball.

And so many of the mills where previous generations of athletes maintained their hostility toward their rivals after graduation are now empty reflections of a manufacturing base that has moved across borders or overseas, much to the detriment of the local economy.

That has left many of today's young adults — and their children who would constitute the next generation of high school athletes — to move away to find employment, and that loss of population has changed the face of almost every community north of Cumberland County and left schools struggling for survival amid declining enrollments.

As a result, some significant football rivalries may soon vanish.

Take Bangor and Brewer. While Bangor, whose own enrollment has dropped by 200 in recent years, will remain in the state's largest-school class for the next two years based on an April 1 enrollment of 1,240, Brewer's enrollment has dipped to 750 — three fewer than Class B Hampden Academy. So the Witches are likely to drop a class whether the Maine Principals' Association maintains a three-class system or expands to four classes next fall, as is under consideration.

Other rivalries threatened by enrollment fluctuations, depending on how many classes the MPA fields next season, include the battle between Jay and Livermore Falls, schools that already are working toward a merger at the middle-school level; Waterville and Winslow, which would be in different classes under a continuation of a three-class format; and even Foxcroft Academy and Dexter if four classes are approved.

That's not to say new rivalries won't emerge for those schools, but it's always difficult to turn away from tradition.

Take the Foxcroft-Dexter football rivalry. Given the give-and-take my dad experienced back when I wore the maroon and white, I'm sure if he was alive today he wouldn't want to remind his co-workers at Fayscott — itself now an empty building — that Foxcroft has beaten Dexter in football for 20 straight years.

Of course he wouldn't.

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