Fielding teams and generating athletic schedules can be a challenge from year to year for smaller high schools in more isolated parts of Maine.
Dan Campbell was greeted with that dilemma five years ago when he became the athletic director at Jonesport-Beals High School.
“Our baseball team that year started with nine players, dwindled down to seven, and by the time we had our first game, I had five kids from the high school who were playing,” said Campbell, who ultimately received school board approval to add eighth-graders to fill the team’s roster and play its schedule.
Scheduling concerns for neighboring Downeast Athletic Conference schools reached the point where several were accepted into dual memberships with one of two other leagues that also consist of northern Class C and Class D schools, the Penobscot Valley Conference, and the Aroostook League.
Now the only school that did not make that move in 2016 makes a similar shift beginning next fall with Jonesport-Beals joining the PVC while maintaining its DAC membership.
The move came after the school had some difficulty filling out its schedules in several sports during the past two years. That resulted, in part, because two small island schools the Royals were scheduled to face found themselves unable to field teams due to a lack of players.
“We adapted by going with those island schools and picking up a school one at a time and creating those relationships and it did work,” Campbell said. “We held out as long as we could because I didn’t want the kids to have to play all Class C schools, and the Class C schools don’t want to play us because we’re ‘D.’
“I understand that, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get some games and this is going to ensure that we can fill in those gaps where we need to fit in some games.”
Islesboro Central School announced in early November that it would be unable to field boys and girls basketball teams this winter after having only a girls team last winter.
Another Penobscot Bay island school, North Haven, decided just before Thanksgiving that it would not have a boys basketball team this winter but would sponsor a girls basketball squad.
“When we lost the two [Islesboro boys] basketball games last year, I called over 27 schools, and I was able to pick up one game,” Campbell said. “Games we had been able to count on from different schools, we lost, and because we were not part of another conference I wasn’t able to find other games.”
Islesboro has 31 students and North Haven has 22, according to the Maine Principals’ Association basketball bulletin.
“It’s not a case of trying to get away from these island schools by any means,” said Campbell, whose school of 67 students will host North Haven for girls games at 5:30 p.m. Friday and 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
“We have good relationships with these schools, but just because there’s a good relationship doesn’t take away the fact that the kids are losing out on games and opportunities. They work hard, and if you can play 18 games but you only get 12 that’s not very fair to the kids,” he said.
Jonesport-Beals will play 17 of a maximum 18 regular-season basketball games this winter, including two apiece with another island school, Vinalhaven.
The dual membership in the DAC and PVC will allow Jonesport-Beals to maintain its Down East rivalries while still playing a largely Class D schedule based on its enrollment.
Narraguagus of Harrington, Sumner of East Sullivan, Calais and Machias became dual members of the DAC and PVC in 2016, while Shead of Eastport and Woodland share membership in the DAC and the Aroostook League.
Jonesport-Beals is playing Class C Narraguagus and Sumner; and Class D Machias, Shead and Woodland among its DAC brethren in boys and girls basketball this winter.
“The PVC has worked with us; we’re playing their DAC teams, and some of their schools have been very kind in the past to work with us and give us games,” Campbell said. “My outlook and the outlook here at the school is that we’ve got really good kids down here, really good students who deserve the games, so I feel like I’m doing a disservice to scrape by with the bare minimum number of games we need for the MPA standings.
“It’s all about the kids. It’s why they play, and it’s why we have these leagues,” he said. “That’s why we put sports out there, for the kids so they can succeed and work and sacrifice and develop leadership skills. If they want to play they deserve to play, and this is a way we’re able to do it.”