ROCKPORT, Maine — The Camden Hills football program has struggled through its six years of varsity existence.

The success and popularity of other sports ranging from soccer and basketball to mountain biking, as well as a relative abundance of fall sports offerings compared with many other schools its size, has left the Windjammers’ fledgling football entry often hard-pressed to field a sufficient number of players to remain competitive.

And that reality has been reflected in the record book, with just a single postseason appearance in 2010 and a 2-22 record over the last three seasons.

“The last three years obviously have been a bit disappointing and we’ve seen a decline in the team,” said Thad Chilton, a prime mover in the area’s youth football program who has been named Camden Hills’ new varsity football coach. “We did win two games but in the games we lost we weren’t terribly competitive.

“It’s that lack of competition and the lack of participants that have been of most concern, both to the administration and to the people who organize football in our area. So the plan going forward is to improve all aspects of football, not just the win-loss record but it begins with putting together a coaching staff and really trying hard — and this includes the players and the football families — to recruit more players.”

Camden Hills, a Class B football school by enrollment in Maine’s four-class statewide alignment, has played its last two seasons down in Class C in an effort to redevelop, and after going winless last fall school officials have sought permission from the Maine Principals’ Association to play down a second class for the next two seasons.

That request to allow the Windjammers to compete in Class D was endorsed by the MPA’s Football Committee, with final approval pending.

Now the school has hired a new head coach in Chilton, a midcoast resident since 1998 who has been a co-founder, executive and coach with the Five Town Football program that serves younger football players in the area. He replaces Steve Drinkwater, who resigned after last season.

“Our dilemma has always been that in order to attract more athletes football needs to win, and if you look statistically the teams that are perennial winners in the state are the teams that average 45 or more boys on the team per season,” said Chilton, who works as president of a Camden advertising and graphic design firm.

“You need the numbers to be competitive, and you need the numbers to be able to play juniors and seniors primarily. We have not achieved those numbers.”

The Camden Hills varsity program has struggled with participation rates, typically starting seasons with 30 to 35 players but often finishing in the 20s due to attrition stemming primarily from injuries and academic problems.

Such low numbers often mean younger players who normally would compete on subvarsity teams are forced into varsity competition against older and more physically mature players sooner than expected.

“Our mission this year is to get back to fundamentals, to simplify things, to present football systems to our players that they can achieve success with,” said Chilton, whose own football playing career in his native southern Virginia was cut short because of injuries.

“It can’t be too complex, it can’t be above and beyond what they’ve been successful with in the past. If we do those things I believe we’ll be successful in a number of ways. That success will bring wins, the wins will bring interest and that will further increase participation over and above what we plan to do with recruiting.”

Chilton indicated that one of his initial goals on the field will be to improve Camden Hills’ defensive efficiency. The Windjammers yielded more than 47 points per game during last fall’s 0-8 campaign.

“In the past a whole lot of interest has been placed on Camden Hills’ inability to score,” he said. “One of the things I want to solve this year is our inability to stop the other teams from scoring. Our defense needs to get significantly better and our players need to understand the defense well enough to play it well enough.

“We’ve given up a lot of points and we need to stop that.”

Chilton said his initial priority is to solidify a coaching staff, and persons interested in coaching at Camden Hills should call him at 231-0001 or athletic administrator Steve Alex at 236-7800.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...