Freeport High School doesn’t have the same problem faced by most public schools in Maine — its enrollment is trending upward.
But the Falcons’ football program faces a challenge similar to many of its peers, at least for the next year or so, and that’s a small, inexperienced roster poised to be overwhelmed by its more veteran Class C South rivals.
So Freeport will take a one-year deviation from that track to regroup and instead play in the developmental Class E division this fall.
“Last year with a group of seniors that numbered in the double digits we were 1-7,” said Freeport athletic administrator Craig Sickels, who explained that if everyone returns next season the Falcons would have 21 freshmen and sophomores among 28 players.
“That right there was the deciding factor. We looked at 21 freshmen and sophomores and said that is not a varsity team so knowing that it was a one-year schedule we decided to go the Class E route for the safety and well-being of our freshmen and sophomores,” he added.
Freeport is one of three new teams in Class E, which was created by the Maine Principals’ Association last year to aid programs struggling with low participation numbers and related competitive issues.
Dirigo of Dixfield and Old Orchard Beach also are set to compete in Class E for the first time next fall and with Freeport joins second-year members Boothbay, Camden Hills of Rockport, Maranacook of Readfield, Telstar of Bethel, Sacopee Valley of South Hiram and Traip Academy of Kittery.
Traip Academy plans to return to the Class E ranks after forfeiting its Week 2 game last year and later the final five weeks of its 2017 schedule when school officials determined that injuries had left the team with a dangerously low number of players.
Dirigo and Old Orchard Beach each went 3-5 in Class D South last fall despite their decreasing numbers.
The nine Class E entries means 11.5 percent of the state’s 78 varsity football programs will be playing at the developmental level in 2018.
“I think it certainly served its purpose last year and now with other schools coming in I think it just validates that,” said MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham.
Burnham said it’s unlikely any more schools will switch to Class E football for the coming season because leagues around the state are working to complete their schedules.
Class E teams generally fill the bulk of their schedules with games against each other, but there could be some crossover games against schools from Classes C and D.
Class E programs, which stage playoffs but do not compete for an official state championship, are assigned Heal Point values like Classes A, B, C and D in an effort to encourage crossover matchups when geography and competitive interests make such games attractive.
Sickels said Freeport will play in Class E for only one year before an influx of players bolsters the Falcons’ roster and experience level. He expects there to be 16 eighth-graders playing this fall along with 18 in seventh grade, 15 in sixth grade and 12 fifth-graders.
“I think it will be a one-year deal for us because in 2019 we’ll have five seniors and 14 juniors along with seven sophomores,” Sickels said.
Sickels said the Falcons will have games this fall against Class E opponents Boothbay, Camden Hills, Telstar, Dirigo, Traip Academy, Old Orchard Beach and Sacopee Valley along with a crossover game against Class D South school Poland.
Freeport’s football fortunes also may get a boost from its new home field, a lighted, artificial-turf facility that the Falcons will host games on for the first time this fall.
The field is part of a $4 million track and field complex funded by a mix of public and private funds, including a $1.3 million donation from Nike on behalf of Freeport’s most famous resident, 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson.
“We’re hoping it builds a lot of excitement for all of our sports teams,” said Sickels.
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