The major class in Maine high school football has had different looks over the years. Beginning with the 2011 season, it could change again if the Maine Principals’ Association goes to four classes.

The growth of high school football in the state, changing enrollments and the desire to make football more competitive have fueled reclassification efforts. There is also a proposal to stick with three classes, but with Westbrook and Marshwood High of South Berwick moving down to Class B.

The four-class proposal could be the most intriguing. It’s based on April 1 enrollment figures, with 18 schools with enrollments of 865 and up forming Class AA.

Western Class A would include such schools as Gorham, Kennebunk, Marshwood, Westbrook, Falmouth, Greely and York. The new Class A enrollment would range from 600 to 864.

Under the four-class proposal, Class AA would have three divisions — North, Central and South — of six teams each.

“I support four classes for high school football,” said Gary Stevens, Thornton Academy’s athletic director.

“They went to three classes when football was on the decline 20 years ago. We now have an era where football is cropping up in places where 20 years ago it would have been unthinkable. We have a different landscape than before. It warrants four classes and fairer competition.”

Change is nothing new to Maine high school football. The state had four football classes until 1975. Class D resumed four years later but was discontinued in 1986.

When the high school football playoff system started in 1967, the state’s top class had a Northern and Southern Division. The division winners met for the state championship.

With fewer Class A schools because of declining enrollments, the state went with three divisions, much like the current Class AA proposal, in the 1980s.

The three divisions were named the Bowie (York County), the Curran (Cumberland County) and the Parent (Lewiston-Auburn and north).

A CHANGE IN ENROLLMENTS

Reclassification is needed, say coaches.

“Something was going to have to happen,” said Deering Coach Greg Stilphen. “With the number of schools growing, there was a competitive imbalance in Class A. It’s no fault of any school. They can’t control their demographics. We’ve been looking at this for the last two years.”

The way things were going in Class A over the last few years, there were schools with enrollments in the 800 and 900 range playing schools with enrollments of 1,300 and 1,400. That made for some mismatches. With reclassifications, hopefully more parity will follow.

“The time has come for four classes,” said Kevin Kezal, Thornton Academy’s coach. “Football is driven by enrollment and for the smaller schools, it was hard for them to compete.

“If that had continued, some football programs might have gone away.”

As an example of how enrollments have changed, Thornton Academy was a mid-sized Class A school a few years ago. Now with an enrollment of 1,288, the Golden Trojans are the second-largest school in the state, even larger than Bangor. Lewiston has the largest enrollment, 1,328.

Kezal believes there could be some flexibility in scheduling opponents for the 2011 season.

In an effort to preserve rivalries and limit travel, which will be greater for Class AA schools because of crossover games with the other divisions under the four-class format, Kezal feels games with Kennebunk and Marshwood would make sense even though those schools would be one class down.

“That flexibility would be good,” said Kezal. “We’re still concerned with the travel the four-class proposal might mean.”

GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS

Along with the breakdown of three classes versus four classes and the enrollment figures, the MPA football/classification committee sent out surveys to all athletic administrators at football-playing schools.

The survey asked three questions:

1. Is your school in favor of moving from three to four classes based on the information provided?

2. Will your school remain in the class where they are proposed to play? If no, would you apply to play up a class or apply to play down a class?

3. Would you be willing to provide crossover games to another region should that region have an odd number of teams?

The classification subcommittee will meet with the MPA football committee at noon Aug. 12 to review the survey results.

Whatever plan the MPA football committee recommends, it would have to gain approval from the MPA’s classification and management committees.

The coaches feel the MPA has kept them and their athletic administrators up to date on the proposals.

“Through e-mail, the MPA has kept everyone abreast of the situation,” said Mike Bailey of Portland High, who prefers four classes.

“There are people who have done a lot of work on this,” said John Wolfgram of Cheverus. “With more schools adding football, it’s a good time to look at reclassification. With a lot of schools in a big state, geographically it’s difficult to make a schedule with balance. Nothing is perfect. There are some strong points and some weak points.”

Under the four-class proposal, Class AA would have to play crossover games with the other divisions to get eight games.

“That doesn’t bother me,” said Bailey. “We did it for years. I would rather see that and have parity.”

SMAA coaches are also adamant in maintaining the eight-team regional playoff format. It keeps teams engaged in the regular season longer with the possibility of making the playoffs.

And as the eight-team format has shown, it’s not a given that a top seed will emerge as the regional champion.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

tchard@pressherald.com