Sacopee Valley High School canceled its varsity football program for the 2014 season with hopes of returning to that status in 2015.

Chris Hughes, the athletic director at the South Hiram school, said school administrators came to that decision because of safety concerns after only 17 players showed up at a recent team meeting.

Hughes stressed that the school, which has about 380 students, would have a football program this fall.

“We’re going to try to continue our program,” he said. “I’m not sure yet how our schedule is going to play out.”

The Hawks, who were to compete in Western Class D, have struggled with low participation in their five years as a varsity program. They are 0-40 and were outscored 243-39 last fall.

School officials from the nine remaining Western Class D schools are scheduled to meet Wednesday morning at the Maine Principals’ Association office in Augusta to discuss how to fill the vacancy left by Sacopee Valley and what playoff format the division would use.

Hughes said about 30 students expressed interest in playing football last March. But as the preseason crept closer, fewer students attended meetings.

“We wanted to start with more than 22, that was our goal,” said Hughes. “We didn’t have that. We felt, with 17 kids, which was where we were at last year, we didn’t want to be in a situation where we were calling another school and saying we couldn’t play because of injuries or other eligibility issues. That wouldn’t be fair to them.”

The Hawks had forfeited games in each of the last two years.

“I know it’s not fair right now that everyone has to reschedule because of us,” said Hughes. “This is not how we want to do business. But this was something we felt we had to do.”

Old Orchard Beach Athletic Director Jack Trull understands. Two years ago, OOB had to cancel its varsity softball season because of a lack of players. Last fall, the Gulls had to cancel their field hockey program for the same reason.

“When you’re in Class C or Class D, a lot of programs are dependent on numbers,” said Trull. “Sign-ups and show-ups are two different numbers.”

Trull believes the Hawks are doing the right thing for their program.

“Hopefully within a year they can pop back in,” he said. “I think Sacopee needs to do this and that it will hopefully breed a little success into their program and kids will want to play.”

Hawks Coach Chuck Hamaty said the school had three options: remain a varsity program, drop to the junior varsity level or drop the program.

“It was a tough decision all the way around,” he said. “The kids are very disappointed that we’re not a varsity program, but they are very excited to be able to continue playing football.

“In fact, the best week we’ve had in our summer conditioning was last week, when it was announced we were going JV.”

He said the system has good participation at the middle school level, which bodes well for the future, but that the team needs to have some success on the field.

“Part of the problem, I think, is that we have been non-competitive the last three years,” he said. “Our numbers have been low and we’ve been forced to play … unlike everyone else who gets to play their best players, we have to play our only players … and some of them are not ready for varsity.

“By being more competitive, maybe more kids can say, ‘Hey I want to be part of this.’ If we’re more competitive, if we’re in the game, we’re hoping that we will get a few more kids out.”