Ian Pratt has been a football guy since playing the sport under coach Art Greenlaw at Stearns High School in Millinocket during the 1980s.
Since then he’s moved Down East and continued to be a prime advocate for the sport in the St. Croix Valley. He coached youth football teams featuring local kids against Canadian competition and led a Calais-Woodland cooperative high school team for four years before it was suspended in 2012 because of declining participation.
Pratt has continued to coach youth football in the area, and now he wants to bring varsity football back to the area’s high schools.
“I’ve been thinking about this since the day we had to give up our varsity football program years ago,” said Pratt, who wants to create a new cooperative entry among Calais, Woodland and Shead of Eastport.
Fourteen Calais High students recently signed up to play for a possible club team this fall, and Pratt is eager to attract additional players from Calais as well as interested student-athletes from neighboring Woodland and Shead.
“If I could get 25 kids that would be great,” Pratt said of his potential recruiting pool, which has a combined enrollment of approximately 425 students.
Should the proposed program be able to attract 25 or more players for an eventual return to the varsity ranks, it would be in line with most other schools in the Little Ten Conference where Calais-Woodland played from 2008 through 2011.
Eight of last year’s 10 LTC teams began the season with 30 or fewer players, with six schools having between 20 and 27 players.
At least two things have changed since Calais last fielded a varsity team.
The cooperative team rule, which formerly added all students from each participating school to determine classification, now bases classification on the total enrollment of the base school with a percentage of the enrollment of each other school involved based on its percentage of players on the team.
The Silverados, named after one of Pratt’s Calais auto dealerships, ultimately would have the new option of playing either 11-player or eight-player varsity football. The Maine Principals’ Association is introducing an eight-player football class this fall with 10 schools from around the state.
“It’s still a numbers issue,” Pratt said. “I’m quite confident we can get to the low- to mid-20s. The next step if we can get that commitment would be to try to get a club schedule going.”
Pratt is optimistic he can back a varsity team with a feeder program of younger players from the area through the Canadian-based Fundy Football League. He coached a Calais-St. Stephen team to a second-place finish in the 10-11 age division last year.
“We’ve got a good little feeder program coming up for those age groups,” Pratt said. “All we really need to have a successful program for the high schools in this area are seven or eight kids per grade.”
Pratt plans to fund a re-booted Calais-area high school team privately and coach the squad without accepting a stipend — as he did for the previous Calais-Woodland entry.
“It’s not going to cost the taxpayers of Calais a penny,” he said. I’ll buy 100 percent of what they need, and I’ll coach for free. I don’t want to take one dollar away from education, although I think this is a good educational activity.”
Football originally was played in the St. Croix Valley during the late 1800s, according to the St. Croix Historical Society.
Calais Academy football continued through the 1920s before falling victim to the Great Depression, with the team’s last reported season in 1932.
Seventy-six years ensued before the Calais-Woodland Silverados joined the LTC in 2008 after many of the core players on that initial varsity squad won the 2006 Maritime provincial championship for ages 14 and 15 while playing for Pratt in the Fundy Football League.
The Calais-Woodland cooperative entry qualified for postseason play in 2008 and won its LTC Class C quarterfinal before finishing with a 6-4 record.
The Silverados, whose early rosters featured Cam Shorey, who later was an All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team defensive end at the University of New Hampshire, also earned playoff berths in 2009 and 2010.
The Silverados, who had 40 players during the 2010 preseason, finished the 2011 season with just 20 players before the team was disbanded.