WESTBROOK – Things could be quite different for the Westbrook High football team next season. Instead of taking on foes like Portland, Bonny Eagle and Cheverus, the Blazes could instead be facing teams like Cape Elizabeth, Gray-New Gloucester and Lake Region.

Thanks to a change in the Southwestern Maine Activities Association’s by-laws approved on Monday, Westbrook is now able to consider dropping its football team from Class A to Class B.

Based on the size of its student population, Westbrook is classified as a Class B school by the Maine Principals’ Association. According to Westbrook Athletic Director Todd Sampson, the 2010 enrollment at the school was 769 students and the Maine Principals’ Association cutoff for schools to play Class A football is 775 students.

However, as Westbrook is a member of the SMAA, the school is subject to the league’s by-laws that require all members to petition the Maine Principals’ Association to play Class A.

“(There has) been a by-law in our league that says that in all Heal and Crabtree point sports you will petition up and play Class A,” Sampson said, adding that several sports, such as ice hockey, where Westbrook already plays a Class B schedule, lacrosse and wrestling are exempt from that regulation and the vote on Monday now puts football in that exempt category, allowing SMAA teams to play Class B football and remain part of the league.

Sampson said the change would be for football only, other sports at the school would not be affected by the change. “We can stay in the SMAA for baseball, basketball, soccer and field hockey,” Sampson said. “And we can compete in a Class B football league (such as the Campbell Conference) should we choose to. That was never an option before Monday.”

The two schools immediately affected by the change are Westbrook and Marshwood, Sampson said, adding that he believed other schools in the league would consider the move in the future.

Jeff Guerette, Westbrook’s head football coach, said that this has been a move that has been discussed for some time. “We’re just looking at it from the perspective of what’s best for our football program and what’s best for our kids,” he said.

The Blazes have struggled in Class A football over the past several years, going 2-6 last season. The team got wins over Gorham and Sanford, but also was on the wrong side of lopsided decisions against powerhouses Bonny Eagle (36-0), Cheverus (35-0) and Deering (42-7).

While the drop to Class B would not guarantee immediate success for the Blazes in games against strong Class B teams like Cape Elizabeth and Mountain Valley, it would allow Westbrook to play schools with similar-sized programs, something Guerette believes would allow the Blazes to be more competitive.

“I think playing teams with similar size enrollments would allow us to see where we stack up,” he said. “(Right now) week in and week out, we’re up against schools with mostly 1,000 kids, so that’s a big challenge having our numbers.”

Sampson said the public will have a chance to weigh in on the potential change at two public forums, on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. and Feb. 19 at 9 a.m. At both sessions, Sampson, Guerette, and Westbrook Principal Marc Gousse will discuss the potential change and then take questions from the public. Both sessions will be held in room 114 of the high school.

While no decision has been finalized, Sampson said there is a small window to make the change. He said after the two public forums, he plans to meet with members of the Westbrook School Committee later this month and have a decision by the end of February.

“The SMAA, as well as the Campbell Conference, is looking for some type of decision by March 3,” he said.

Until the decision is made, the 2011 Westbrook football schedule is up in the air. The school will field a team, they just don’t know who they’ll be playing right now. “Not knowing what league we’re in, we don’t know who our opponents are going to be,” Sampson said.

The Westbrook football team could be taking the field against Class B opponents next season. Residents will have opportunities to weigh in on the proposed change at public forums on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. and Feb. 19 at 9 a.m. Both forums will be held in room 114 at the high school.File photo

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