Two years after people in Biddeford said no, no, no to its beloved high school football team switching classifications and traditional opponents, some are now saying yes. How many? No one knows with certainty, which is why there will be a public discussion on the topic next week.
It is time to say yes to reclassification, a sterile word that is loaded with emotions.
Biddeford once boasted it was Titletown. Seven Class A state football championships from 1980 to 1994 left rivals with no rebuttals. A community proud of its blue-collar heritage cheered loudest for each subsequent Gold Ball that joined the others in the school trophy cases.
Biddeford was king of the big-boy schools in football. It didn’t matter if other Maine cities had acclaimed restaurants, bigger malls or higher-paying jobs. Biddeford football was more than the equalizer.
But 1994 was a long time and many boys ago. The high school’s enrollment was more than 1,400 students nearly 40 years ago; it will drop to 710 in 2019 if projections hold up.
Biddeford school administrators now want to recommend to its school board that the football program leave Class A for Class B, and join neighboring Kennebunk and Westbrook and other schools with similar enrollments. The switch would happen for the 2015 season.
Maine is a graying state. Throw in a recession and loss of jobs, and watch young couples start a family elsewhere. It’s the rare Maine school district that has seen growth. Downsizing is everywhere.
If you love high school football, Biddeford isn’t everywhere.
The community has been invited to the discussion next Thursday night at the Little Theater at Biddeford High. Dennis Walton, the high school athletic director and a former Biddeford football star, hopes the public buys in and gives its blessing.
Don’t call it an erosion of a community’s pride and sense of traditions. Call it a sobering adjustment. You need lots of boys to maintain the integrity and the safety of a successful high school football program. Football coach Brian Curit has half as many to draw from as Mike Landry did when his teams dominated Maine high school football.
Curit said he would match his starting 11 against any starting 11 on any other high school team in Maine. The problem comes when his senior starting quarterback dislocates his elbow and sophomore backup must come in. And when the senior left tackle is on the bench with a twisted ankle, replaced by a junior who was the reserve tight end.
Class A schools with twice the enrollment can plug the holes more efficiently with their deeper reserves. At Biddeford, coaches cross their fingers and hope a youngster’s passion for the game along with good coaching during the week will compensate.
It can but not consistently.
“At some point,” says Walton, “we’ve got to ask what’s in the best interest of our kids? We have to stop holding onto the (old) traditions and pride.”
Meaning people have to stop believing a move to Class B is a demotion, a concession to a failure to win.
Cony High of Augusta went from Class A to Class B in a recent reclassification cycle. Quarterback Ben Lucas and his teammates certainly didn’t think less of the Class B championship they won 30-23 with their 99-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive against Kennebunk last fall.
No, Cony football doesn’t have Biddeford’s legacy. Cony’s football championship was its first since 1932. No team gets handed a Gold Ball. It’s earned – and to players who hold it aloft afterward, it doesn’t matter if enrollment put them in Class A, B, C, or D. The players made a commitment to win.
In turn the Biddeford community should make a commitment to the players and coaches to give them a better chance to succeed.
Alan Casavant, the city’s mayor and school board chairman – and former Biddeford High teacher and hockey coach – believes many in the community have changed their opinion in the past two years.
It’s time to move. Usually it’s the fans from another generation who weigh degrees of success by the alphabet. Among a much older generation there’s a bit of deja vu. For more than 30 years, private St. Louis High of Biddeford had championship teams. Four years before it closed in 1970, St. Louis was champion of what was then Class AA and Biddeford was the Class A champion.
That’s why Walton, school superintendent Jeremy Ray and others have tried to separate emotions tied to memories from a numbers game the school can’t win today.
Overshadowing everything is the rivalry with Thornton Academy across the bridge in Saco. Their traditional end-of-season game has been an event that transcends football. If those schools meet in the playoffs, time stands still in the two communities.
Walton says he’s working to keep that game on the schedule.
In 1991, Biddeford beat Gardiner for the Class A title. Gardiner, another football town, is no longer in Class A. In 1993 and again in 1994, Biddeford beat Waterville for the championship. Waterville is no longer in Class A.
Biddeford is expected to have a winning season this fall in probably its last year in Class A. Ray is prepared to recommend to the school board that Biddeford move to Class B.
A winning season in 2014 won’t be a sad tribute to the past. It will be a jumping-off point to a different future.