Maine high school football may lack the dramatic look a fourth class would have provided, but there are enough changes – teams dropping down a class, school consolidation, new varsity programs and scheduling changes – to offer a landscape that should add interest and make it more equitable for struggling programs.
It all starts Monday with the opening of preseason practice. The regular season will begin Sept. 2.
As school enrollments continue to fluctuate, programs move up and down in classes. Teams can petition to remain in a higher class than its enrollment dictates, but some eventually conclude it’s better to be in a class where they can be competitive.
“I think high school football throughout the state remains strong,” said Mike Burnham, an assistant director of the Maine Principals’ Association.
“We’re still seeing growth. The moves of some of the schools is just a reflection of what’s happening with schools throughout the state with declining enrollments.”
After a year of MPA football committee meetings and surveys, the proposal of adding a fourth class of football, while intriguing at first, never gained enough support.
“We weren’t ready to put forth a recommendation. It wasn’t voted on. There were too many questions,” said Burnham.
Adding a fourth class of football could resurface in two years. The MPA committee plans to continue discussions.
So three classes are still here, but with a different look in each one.
There are new looks and scheduling changes to fit the changes.
Class A had four schools whose enrollments dropped below 775 students leave for Class B.
Westbrook and Marshwood moved from Western Class A to Western Class B, and Brewer and Mt. Blue made similar drops in Eastern Maine.
The moves are intended to make them more competitive because they will play against schools of similar size.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Westbrook Coach Jeff Guerette.
“It gives us a chance to be competitive. The more attractive we can make the program, the better the chances to get more kids out for the sport.”
Western Class B coaches and athletic directors have wanted an eight-team playoff format for some time. With three new teams, they will get it.
The other new school in Western Class B will be Spruce Mountain, a new school that combines Jay and Livermore Falls, which were Class C schools individually.
“We wanted an eight-team playoff,” said Cape Elizabeth Coach Aaron Filieo. “Back then, we didn’t know how many teams we would have.”
With 12 teams in the conference, it wasn’t a difficult decision to have the expanded playoff.
Western Class B will use a tier system for scheduling: six teams were ranked in the upper tier and six in the lower, based on results from the last five years.
There are two exceptions: Westbrook and Marshwood were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 because they came from Class A.
Mountain Valley was ranked third and Cape Elizabeth fourth.
Teams will play eight regular- season games, and the regional playoffs will have three rounds.
“You play everyone in your tier for five games and three games against teams in the other tier. On paper it seemed the right thing to do,” said Filieo.
There will be no more coin flips to determine a tie for the final playoff spot, which happened last season. The Crabtree point system, which places an empasis on strength of opponents, will be used to determine playoff teams.
“The coin flip was not a good thing,” said Filieo.
Joining Brewer and Mt. Blue as additions to Eastern Class B will be Oceanside, a new school that combines Rockland and Georges Valley, and Madison/Carrabec, a cooperative program.
Old Town will play an Eastern Class B schedule after taking part in Class C last season.
Dropping down a class because of enrollment are Poland and Winslow, now both in Western Class C. Winslow had been a longtime member of Eastern Class B.
Hermon and Washington Academy in Eastern Class C, and Telstar in Western Class C are new varsity programs.
Western Class A will have 14 teams, down from 16; Eastern Class A has 10 teams and will return to a four-team playoff format. All other conferences in the state will have eight-team playoffs.
In Western Class A, the Cumberland and York County divisions have been eliminated, but rivalries will be kept intact.
All of the teams will be thrown in together, which brings things that coaches like and don’t like.
“It was kind of the luck of the draw as to your schedule,” said Portland Coach Mike Bailey. “Until it shakes out in the end, we won’t know how it is.”
Portland will play Thornton Academy, Biddeford and Massabesic in the regular season for the first time in years.
“I would have to look back to find out the last time we played,” said Bailey.
“One of the good things about the schedule is that it renews some of those rivalries that go back quite a while.”
Added Thornton Academy Coach Kevin Kezal about the schedule: “There are some inequities. I like the teams we’re playing. We needed to have a tougher schedule and we’ve got it.
“I just think the whole thing could have been organized better.”
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:
Complete classification list, B6