MONMOUTH — High school sports may soon have another cooperative team, this one with a major impact on the local gridiron landscape.
Winthrop High School and Monmouth Academy have reached an agreement to combine their football programs.
Monmouth coach Norm Thombs confirmed the impending merger in an email message to the Lewiston Sun Journal this week.
“It looks like it is going to happen, only not this fall but (2012),” Thombs said.
The move would have to be approved by the Maine Principals’ Association. When the restructured program is ready to compete, it likely would be eligible for the Class C division of the Campbell Conference.
That division already has undergone an extreme makeover since the end of the 2010 season.
Jay and Livermore Falls merged as Spruce Mountain High School and advanced to Class B. Madison and Carrabec’s co-op team also was forced to move up a class.
Among the newcomers replacing those traditional names are Winslow, a multi-time Class B champion recently hamstrung by declining enrollment, and Telstar, which will field a varsity team for the first time in more than 30 years.
Winthrop’s dip in enrollment and both schools’ ongoing struggle with school budgets made the football union both necessary and feasible.
The combined enrollment would fall underneath the MPA’s new Class C threshold of 500 students.
“We have some hoops to jump through, including applications and budgets,” Thombs said. “Joel (Stoneton, Winthrop coach) and I were hoping for this year, but the budget season is taking up everyone’s time.”
Stoneton verified that the merger discussions are in progress but declined further comment.
Monmouth dropped varsity football in 1977.
Parents and boosters, many of whom had played the sport at other Maine high schools, resurrected the youth program for grades K-8 in the 1990s.
That led to the creation of successful middle school and high school junior varsity programs. Monmouth was believed to be on target to launch its own high school varsity team until the academy became part of Regional School Union 2, putting it under the auspices of a larger school committee.
Instead, the schools will follow a statewide trend and join forces. The middle school teams will be blended this coming season, Thombs said.
“The Winthrop school board has approved the two (varsity) teams coming together to form one, and the Monmouth football association also approved it,” he added.
In addition to the Madison-Carrabec co-op team, Calais and Woodland play together as a Class C entity.
The cooperative model also is common in hockey. Winthrop currently shares a team with Maranacook and Hall-Dale. Monmouth has been part of that program in the past, as well.
Winthrop already is a force in Class C football. The Ramblers won the Class C championship under Thombs in 2000. The late Lee St. Hilaire, a quarterback, won the Fitzpatrick Trophy as Maine’s outstanding senior football player in 2001.
With Stoneton in charge, Winthrop won the Western Class C championship in 2008 and reached the regional semifinals each of the last two seasons.
Thombs, a Mt. Blue graduate and New Sharon native, has coached the JV team for five years in Monmouth, where his children attend school