BIDDEFORD – The new Victory Plaza in front of the renovated entrance to Biddeford High certainly stirs passions. At its center is a victory bell tower. Etched into the stone encircling it are these words: “Tiger Pride. An enduring Biddeford tradition.”

More than a tradition, it is a passion stitched into the fabric of life here. Perhaps that’s why people react so swiftly when football is mentioned.

Several months ago the Maine Principals’ Association released a plan to divide the state’s high school football teams into four classes, instead of the current three based solely on enrollment figures. Biddeford, a Class A school since 1963, was to be dropped from Class A to B. Since 2006, Biddeford’s enrollment has dropped by 104 students, from 934 to 830.

Because the Tigers were coming off an 0-8 year — the school’s worst since the early 1980s — many fans mistakenly thought the drop was based on winning and losing.

And during a public hearing a couple of weeks ago, they told school administrators as much. Even after they were told the reclassification was based on enrollment figures, they insisted the Tigers remain in Class A.

“We had some good public feedback,” said Dennis Walton, the Biddeford athletic director and a former star football player for the Tigers. “In addition to the 15 or so people at the meeting, there were many, many, many more who called and emailed who wanted to put their two cents in.”

And so Biddeford officials petitioned the MPA to remain in Class A, which is where they will be when football resets to four classes.

“We’re a Class A school,” said Scott Descoteaux, the Biddeford coach who also played for the Tigers. “This is where we should be.”

It wasn’t always that way. From 1959-61, Biddeford played in Class C. After a season in Class B, where the Tigers won seven games, they moved up to Class A in 1963.

Later, under the late Mike Landry, Biddeford was the best Class A football program in the state.

From 1980 to 1994, the Tigers won seven Class A state titles, the last in 1994. The Tigers made the playoffs every year from 1983 to 2007, then again in 2009 and 2010.

“There’s a lot of pride in this program,” said Andrea Descoteaux, whose son Kevin is a sophomore lineman (and is no relation to the head coach). “There’s a lot of history here.”

And that history, said Scott Descoteaux, is what fuels the program: “The pride and tradition that exists in this community is real. It’s real to the old guys. And it’s what we try to teach the young guys.”

Descoteaux, Walton and anyone else associated with Biddeford’s football program stressed that the reluctance to go to Class B had nothing to do with the Class B schools, several of which could have beaten the Tigers easily a year ago.

“This was not intending to be an insult to the quality of football,” said Walton. “It was about wanting to play the Massabesics, the Sanfords, the Thornton Academies, schools we’ve played for years.

“People are still passionate about football here; they want to see us get back to the top. But they want it to happen against the teams we’ve always played.”

Corey Brown, a junior defensive back for the Tigers, said Biddeford is a Class A school in every instance — on the athletic field or in the classroom — and needs to compete against other Class A schools.

“We like competing against the upper levels,” he said. “Maybe we’re not as strong as we used to be but Class A is where we belong.”

Robert Desjardins, the Tigers’ longtime fan affectionately known as “Dez,” said perceptions sometimes can skew reality.

“We had a bad year last year,” he said, “and a lot of people thought we were dropping down because we were 0-8. We’re going to be better this year. Maybe not states but better.”

Nodding to the team as practice finished one evening, he added, “There isn’t one kid on that team that wanted to go to Class B.”

Chris Couillard, a sophomore linebacker and fullback for the Tigers, said such a move might have worked against the Tigers. “I think it would bring us more down than up,” he said after a practice.

Now that the team has committed to remaining in Class A, Couillard said that “it makes me want to work even harder to show that’s where we really belong.”

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

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