The Orono High School football team was back at practice late Thursday afternoon, charged with a new goal for the 2019 season — to become the foundation for the program’s return to varsity play in 2020.
School officials told the team after Wednesday’s practice that the Red Riots’ 2019 varsity schedule had been canceled due to safety concerns related to low numbers and a lack of linemen.
Only 14 players turned out for the start of preseason practices, and while the roster eventually grew to as many as 18, six were freshmen.
“We were hoping that we’d come into the season a little stronger in terms of numbers, but not only was it a numbers situation, but it was a personnel matter,” Orono athletic administrator Mike Archer said.
He said having only two experienced linemen also created the potential for significant physical mismatches.
Orono on Thursday announced a seven-game junior varsity schedule and plans next fall to integrate a large contingent of current eighth-grade players in the system and resume 11-player varsity competition in the Class D North Little Ten Conference.
Had Orono started its varsity schedule and not been able to complete it, the program would have been ineligible to resume varsity competition for two more years, according to Maine Principals’ Association rules.