The face of high school football could undergo a dramatic change next fall.

Westbrook High, a charter member of the Southwestern Maine Activities Association, and Marshwood High in South Berwick, an SMAA member since 1989, have both been reclassified by the Maine Principals’ Association from Class A to Class B in football.

Both schools are currently having internal discussions and will decide soon whether to remain in Class B, as assigned by the MPA, or petition to move back to Class A. Westbrook, which indicated in 2009 that it was considering a drop to Class B, will hold two public meetings this week — on Thursday and Saturday — to seek input from the community.

“I think this is a decision that has a major impact on the football community of Westbrook,” said Todd Sampson, athletic director at Westbrook. “It can’t be just a decision that the football coach and athletic director make. I think we need the feedback. We need to look at every angle, from the kids to the parents.”

Every sport offered by the MPA will be affected by classification changes. Morse, for instance, will drop to Eastern Class B in all sports.

Other football moves include Brewer and Mt. Blue from East A to East B, Winslow (a perennial East B power) from East B to East C, Old Town from East C to East B and Madison/Carrabec from West C to East B. All these moves will be voted on by the MPA’s membership at its spring conference on April 28.

The MPA’s Classification Committee released its 2011-12 school year classifications, based on April 1, 2010 enrollment figures, earlier this month, sending a report to each school. Throughout the process, they kept in contact with member schools, informing them of the committee’s progress.

“We tried to get all our ducks in order,” said Jeff Sturgis, an assistant executive director at the MPA. “So far, we haven’t taken one (negative) call from a school.”

Schools have until April 1 to apply to play in a higher class. But for Westbrook and Marshwood, the decision needs to be made sooner. Both the SMAA and Campbell Conference are waiting to set football schedules for the fall.

Rich Buzzell, the athletic director at Marshwood, said the Hawks plan to make their decision before school vacation begins at the end of the week. Westbrook’s decision will take a little longer, though Sampson said he knows it must come soon. The SMAA’s athletic directors next meet on March 3. The Campbell Conference administrators meet on March 10.

Both leagues would like an answer by then.

“The window is getting tight,” said Gary Stevens, the athletic director at Thornton Academy in Saco, an SMAA member. “I believe we need to be making some permanent decisions in March.”

The enrollments of both schools — Westbrook’s is 769, Marshwood’s is 766 — would place them in Western Class B. The enrollment figures used for Class B football schools is from 500 students to 774.

“At the end of the day, the facts remain the same,” said Westbrook’s Sampson. “We have 700-plus kids. The majority of schools in the SMAA have around 1,000 or more. The MPA classifies its sports by student population for a reason.”

But both schools want to make sure that it’s the right move. They want to look at how it will affect the travel budget, how it will affect rivalries. For Marshwood, it would resume once-lost rivalries with York and Wells, former partners in the now-defunct Southern York League.

“We’re ready to go forward with it,” said Buzzell, of the move to Class B. “We feel it’s the best situation for our kids. But we want to make sure we have all our bases covered.”

Both schools were 2-6 last season. In fact, Westbrook has won only 16 games since 2000 and has not had a winning season since the late 1970s. Marshwood, once a state power, has struggled with numbers recently. And that, said Buzzell, is at the crux of his school’s decision.

“We’re where we should be placed and where our kids have a chance to be successful,” he said. “We’re looking to make a two-year commitment at least, whichever way we go. We’re leaning toward Class B right now.”

The SMAA, which consists of 17 schools in southwest Maine, recently changed its constitution to allow the two schools to move to Class B for football, yet remain in the SMAA for all other sports. In the past, the SMAA divided its sports into two columns. Column I sports included football, baseball, basketball, soccer, field hockey and softball among others. Column II sports included ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling.

Schools that played Column II sports could compete against schools outside of the SMAA and in another classification. Schools that played Column I sports had to play a Class A schedule against only SMAA teams.

In a joint principals-athletic directors meeting last Monday, the league voted 16-0 (McAuley did not vote, since it does not offer football) to move football to a Column II sport.

That proposal had been defeated a year ago in a close vote, but Thornton’s Stevens said circumstances have changed.

“Given the discrepancies we’re seeing in some of the (football) scores that have been happening, as well as the fact that a number of our member schools have declining enrollments, the competitive playing field is not as level as it once was,” he said. “This (ruling) is a real evolution in the league’s thinking. It’s a historic moment for the league. Football is a charter sport and to open up the possibilities for league members to play outside the conference says a lot.”

“I certainly have a lot of respect for the league to think outside the box,” said Westbrook’s Sampson. “For a long time, the league was a Class A conference. But they have said this is what’s in the best interests for the kids in our league. And we’re certainly excited to have this option.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]