September 1, 2013

High school football now has four classes, more balance

The new alignment is expected to create more even competition.

By Tom Chard tchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When Windham joined Class A in football 10 years ago, the Eagles were placed in Eastern Maine to balance the number of teams in East and West.

Fast forward to 2013 and Windham, now an established program that won a state title in 2009, is back in Eastern Class A to once again help balance the regions.

As another high school football season opens, there's a distinctive new look. After four years of surveys, discussion and more discussion, high school football has gone to four classes. It's hoped the new alignment will make games more competitive and help programs with low numbers grow.

"We've very optimistic that four classes will work very well," said Mike Burnham, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals' Association, whose football committee devised the four class setup.

"It's going to be good for the sport and the athletes who participate. What we've heard so far is positive," he said.

The new alignment, based on enrollment, more evenly groups schools of similar size.

Mt. Ararat of Topsham will no longer have to play large schools Bangor and Lewiston, which it did in Class A. The Eagles are in Western Class B along with Gorham, which also was struggling in Class A. Nor will Boothbay, the second smallest football school in the state with 217 students, have to play Winslow, which has twice as many students. Boothbay is now in Class D with a lot of familiar opponents such as Traip Academy, Old Orchard Beach, Dirigo and Telstar.

Stearns High of Millinocket is the smallest school in the state playing football with 185 students. The Minutemen are in Eastern Class D.

Boothbay was no match for Winslow, once a Class B power, which played in Western Class C the previous two season but now is in Eastern Class C.

"We held our own in the first half, but it got out of hand quickly in the second half," Boothbay Coach Bryan Dionne said of last year's game against Winslow.

With the four class setup, some rivalries will be lost while others will be revived. Cape Elizabeth Coach Aaron Filieo said he will miss playing York. The Capers are now in Western Class C, while York stayed in Class B.

"It's where we should be. We still get to play Wells and Mountain Valley," he said. And now also Yarmouth, a longtime rival of the Capers in other sports.

Maine hasn't had Class D football since the last major reclassification before the 1987 season. The new enrollment cutoff figures for the four classes are: Class A (875 and up), Class B (600-874), Class C (450-599) and Class D (0-449).

Schools can petition to play up a class, as Cheverus, South Portland and Biddeford have in Class A and Wells and Mountain Valley have in Class C. Wells, two years removed from winning the Class B state title, would be a Class D school based on the revised football enrollment figures.

"It's nothing against Class D, but Class C is where we fit comfortably," said Wells Coach Tim Roche. "The new football alignment was done for competitive balance. If we went to 'D', I don't think competitive balance would have been achieved. We're in a good tough league now," he said.

Joining Windham in Eastern Class A are Cheverus, Deering and Portland. Their move from the West gives Class A eight teams in each region.

"We embrace the change," said Cheverus Coach John Wolfgram.

The Stags are expected to contend for the Eastern Maine title. They'll be joining Bangor, Lewiston, Edward Little and Oxford Hills. For the four Greater Portland schools in the East, their travel mileage, with the exception of going to Bangor, will be similar to what it was in the West.

"We're excited about the move," said Windham Coach Matt Perkins. "It will be a good experience for us."

Perkins said it's important to preserve high school programs and not have them fold, which was looking what might happen because of lopsided games and small squads.

"We have to protect the game in the state," he said. "It's about a smaller school playing a school they don't have a chance against."

Eastern Maine schools Brunswick, Skowhegan, Messalonskee, Cony and Lawrence, all moved down to Class B.

"The four divisions really needed to be done," said Brunswick Coach Dan Cooper. "In the end, it will make for more competitive games."

Cooper likes the fact his Dragons will be playing several former Pine Tree Conference opponents, renewing rivalries with Gardiner, Mt. Blue and Brewer.

"Most of the teams from Class A East dropped down," said Cooper. "Class B East is going to be a great league. We're getting back some old rivals."

Gray-New Gloucester Coach Jim Hersom said the four classes will hopefully cut down on the number of lopsided games.

"Football is totally different than other sports," he said. "If you get beat by 15 in basketball, it doesn't hurt as much physically as getting beat by 30 in football."

Gray-New Gloucester, a fledging program, struggled in Class B, but the Patriots are now in Class C.

Like Gorham, Kennebunk moved from Western Class A to Class B. The Rams did their best to hold their own in Class A, making the playoffs three times in 10 years, but it was always an uphill struggle as they were going against larger schools.

"We like the move back to Class B," said longtime coach Joe Rafferty. "In terms of competition, we're in the right class. We get back our rivalry with York. We played Marshwood forever. Fryeburg Academy is an old rival, and Westbrook has the potential to be a very good rival.

"I think the four classes is better for football."

It will all start to play out Friday night.

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

tchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomChardPPH

 

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