By Tom Chard
A pivotal step in what would be a new look for high school football next fall took place Wednesday when the Maine Principals' Association football committee recommended that four classes be adopted.
The proposal, two years in the making, finally appears to have the momentum to pass. There will be two more opportunities for members to tweak or appeal the final draft, said Mike Burnham, an associate director of the MPA.
The first will be through the MPA's classification committee, which will set enrollment figures for all sports, football included, early next year. Then the MPA management committee will look at the draft one last time before it's passed to the full membership in late March for a final vote.
If it passes, as is likely, teams will play in a class that suits their enrollment. Some teams will move down in class or to a different region -- Deering, Cheverus, Portland and Windham are tagged for Eastern Class A. Teams also have the option of playing up, which Biddeford would do in Class A.
The enrollment breakdown: Class A, 850 and above; Class B (600-849); Class C (460-599); and Class D (459 and below). There will be nine teams, East and West, in A, B and C. Class D will have two 11-team divisions. There are 76 total teams.
One remaining detail is the playoff structure with nine-team divisions.
Most classes have had eight-team playoffs until now.
Over the past two years, schools have had ample opportunity to study and question the proposal. They've been surveyed and resurveyed.
With the growth of football in the state, Burnham believes the time is right for four classes.
"It levels the playing field and gives more opportunities for schools," he said.
Some changes, based on enrollment, have Kennebunk moving to Class B, Wells and Mountain Valley to Class C, and Cony, Lawrence, Messalonskee and Skowhegan to Class B.
"I think in the time we have had on this, we've had feedback and input from every corner of the state," said a football committee member, John Morin of Massabesic High.
"I think what the four-class proposal does is lessen the differences between the larger and smaller schools in each division. It helps for the development of those schools just starting out."
Morin is the longtime head coach and also an assistant principal at Massabesic.
"I think one of the charges of the football committee was determining what was in the best interest of high school football," said Todd Livingston, the South Portland High athletic director and chairman of the football committee.
"The previous cycle took a lot of time explaining it. At the time there was generally some momentum for the four classes but still a lot of questions. All the groundwork we did this cycle has made the process a lot smoother and easier."
Burnham said a big remaining question will be the format for the Super Saturday state championship games at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
"We could try to fit four games in on Saturday," said Burnham. "We could have a Friday night game at Fitzpatrick and then the three games on Saturday for a super weekend, or we could have two different sites with two games each."
There will be much discussion before any decision, he said.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: