Thursday, April 17, 2014
KENNEBUNK - Like every high school football coach, Joe Rafferty brings his players together at the start of preseason practice and talks about goals for the upcoming season.
Kennebunk’s bid for a successful season will be focused around its three captains: left to right are running back Tyler Elkington, running back Nicco DeLorenzo and lineman Ben Bath.
Photos by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
Joe Rafferty, the longtime Kennebunk High football coach, sees renewed enthusiasm along his players as they prepare for their first season in Western Class B after a decade of frustration playing against larger schools in Class A.
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He has been coaching Kennebunk High for 35 years so he has the speech down pat. The only problem, he said, was whether his players believed him.
"To be quite honest with you," he said, "I could stand in front of my team for the last 10 years and we could say, mention the word 'gold' (as in Gold Ball championship), and I think that they had a tough time believing that was, in fact, a reality."
For the last 10 years, Kennebunk played in Class A. Its record in that time was 30-53, including one winning season and three playoff appearances. When the Rams went 5-4 last fall, it was their first winning season since 2001, two years before they moved up to Class A from B.
After the Maine Principals' Association reclassified football into four classes based on enrollment last spring, Kennebunk became one of several schools that moved down. The Rams will play in Western Class B with Gorham and Mt. Ararat of Topsham -- two former Class A schools.
Playing in Class B, among schools with similar enrollments, already has provided a lift.
"These guys, they've stepped forward the very first day and said they're interested in winning a Gold Ball," said Rafferty. "I haven't heard them talk like that in the last 10 years."
Rafferty and his players know playing in Class B won't be an instant cure-all for the program, that the games won't be easier simply because the schools are smaller. But playing in Class B has been a boon for schools that recently moved down.
Westbrook, for instance, has qualified for the playoffs two years in a row in Class B after years of floundering in Class A. Marshwood advanced to the Class B state championship game last fall in its second Class B season.
"That was a huge boost to both those programs," said Rafferty.
Jeff Guerette, the Westbrook coach, said playing in Class B has infused the program with hope.
"It's kind of given the kids more confidence when they're playing schools with similar- sized enrollments," he said. "We feel we have a chance to be competitive week in, week out. And that's exciting for the kids.
"And then when we won a few games, that generated some excitement in the community and in school, which was really big for us."
Guerette said while the Blazes were competitive with some Class A schools, they were simply overmatched by others. "In Class B, there are still some teams that are better than us but there's not that huge gap like there was in Class A," he said.
Frank True, the third-year coach at Mt. Ararat, hopes for similar results. The Eagles haven't had a winning season (6-3) since 2002 -- their last year in Class B before moving up to Class A. Their record the last 10 years has been 16-67 with one playoff appearance and three head coaches.
True said if the MPA hadn't reclassified football, the Eagles (0-26 the last three seasons) would have petitioned down anyway.
"We're hoping to be competitive," he said. "We'd like to win a few games as well, but we're just looking for competitive games. Four quarters of good football would be good for everybody."
Kennebunk has played in A, B and C over the years. This is the first time the Rams have dropped down.
"The biggest thing," said Rafferty, "is that it gives the kids, as well as the coaches, a little more confidence in what they're doing."
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
Running back Nicco DeLorenzo says Kennebunk is ready for a successful season in Western Class B after earning a playoff berth last year in Western Class A.