AUGUSTA, Maine — Three Portland programs — Cheverus, Deering and Portland — would be shifted to Eastern Maine for high school football under a four-class proposal for the sport crafted by the football committee of the Maine Principals’ Association on Wednesday.
Cheverus — the two-time defending Class A state champion — along with Deering and Portland are among 10 schools that would shift geographic regions under the plan to expand the state’s high school football world from three to four classes for the first time since the mid-1980s.
“It does look dramatically different in some areas,” said Mike Bisson, associate principal and athletic director at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and outgoing chairman of the MPA’s football committee.
The four-class proposal, which has been in the works for more than two years, divides the state’s 76 varsity football programs into Classes A, B, C and D, with Eastern and Western Maine divisions for each class. The proposal would take effect in 2013 and is based on unofficial enrollment figures supplied by the football-playing schools as of April 1.
“Football’s one of the few sports that we offer that has seen significant growth,” said MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham, “and as we’ve continued to grow, moving on to four classes has seemed to make sense.”
The proposal approved by the five-member committee is subject to adjustment as individual schools will have the opportunity to petition the MPA to play up or down a class either to maintain rivalries or for competitive reasons.
“We really looked at trying to take what we already have and reorganize it into four equal classes as much as we could do it,” Bisson said, “knowing that there are going to be teams that are going to look to move to keep some of the tradition that they have.”
Each of the state’s football-playing schools will be sent a copy of the proposal and given time to declare its determination to either play in the class to which it is assigned or seek to move up or down, though by moving down a program would become ineligible for postseason play.
The football committee is scheduled to meet again Aug. 7 when it will discuss any such requests. Any fine-tuning is expected be done in time to submit a final proposal to the MPA’s classification committee later this year.
“We tried to build this proposal anticipating some teams moving,” said Bisson, “but there probably will be some schools we don’t anticipate moving that do and some we might expect to move that choose not to.
“The plan is to get this out soon so schools can see where they are and try to get a commitment from them on what they want to do, either staying where they are, petitioning up or moving down to an area where they might be more successful.”
The four-class proposal would be subject to final approval by the full MPA membership next April.
“You look at what’s best for the sport and work from there,” said Burnham. “I do support the committee taking its time and looking at this from the big picture.”
Cheverus, Deering and Portland would join Bangor, Brunswick, Edward Little of Auburn, Lewiston, Mount Ararat of Topsham and Oxford Hills of South Paris in the new nine-team Eastern Maine Class A, while the remaining nine southern Maine schools with enrollments of 850 students or more would comprise Western A.
“Certainly it may be difficult for some [football-playing] schools to comprehend moving from Western Maine to Eastern Maine as they’ve traditionally always played in Western Maine,” said Burnham.
Class B, with a minimum enrollment of 625, also would involve 18 teams evenly divided between East and West, while Class C (450-624) and Class D (0-449) each would have 20 teams, also equally divided between East and West.
The classification process is designed to determine representatives to the state championship games contested each November, but regular-season schedules still would be determined more locally.
“The championships would be set by this, but the schedule isn’t,” said Bisson. “That’s one for the leagues to work out.”
Other schools that would be moved geographically under the current proposal are Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston and Camden Hills of Rockport from Eastern to Western B; Leavitt of Turner Center and Morse of Bath from Eastern B to Western C; Winslow from Western to Eastern C; and Maranacook of Readfield and Winthrop from Western C to Eastern D.
The first-year cooperative team from Ellsworth-Sumner is considered a Class B school under the new proposal with its combined enrollment of 777, but that program is playing in the small-school Class C ranks this year under the three-class format and will have the option of moving up to its designated class or compete in Class D in 2013 and 2014 under its status as a new program.
Among the more noteworthy changes dictated by enrollment, the top two teams in Western Maine Class B a year ago, state champion Wells and Mountain Valley of Rumford, both would move to Class D, as Wells has an enrollment of 435 students while Mountain Valley is at 395.
Lawrence, the reigning Eastern A champion, would become a Class B program under the new proposal with its enrollment of 718.
Leavitt, the three-time defending Eastern B champion, not only would shift from East to West but would be moved to Class C based on its enrollment of 602.
And Biddeford, a fixture in the Class A ranks for generations, would become the largest school in Class B under the football committee’s proposal given its enrollment of 830.
“I think this is a fair proposal,” said Bisson. “There’s always going to be a biggest and there’s always going to be a smallest in each classification, so we know that more than one school is going to be unhappy, but there’s no perfect proposal. This is our best effort.”