July 26, 2010

Football changes may be on way

The MPA is looking to revert to four classes, with enrollment as a key component in moves.

By Tom Chard tchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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