After the local school board approved Medomak Valley High’s request this winter to elevate football to a varsity sport, Ryan Snell received a message from a former colleague at his alma mater, Brewer High.

“Congratulations,” it read. “But now the hard work begins.”

Snell, an assistant coach at Brewer from 2003-06, can’t wait.

The reaction throughout Waldoboro and the four other towns that send kids to Medomak Valley – Warren, Friendship, Washington and Union – has been incredible, said Snell, recently hired as the program’s first head coach. He said more than 300 people showed up in support at the school board vote.

“The community and business support has been tremendous,” he said. “The kids are ecstatic, especially the juniors and seniors.”

The Panthers will be the only new varsity program in Maine high school football this fall. They open an eight-game schedule in the Little Ten Conference on Sept. 5 against Bucksport, which reached the Eastern Class D final last fall after a 7-1 regular season. For this season and next, Medomak Valley will be ineligible for the playoffs. The plan is to compete in Class C beginning in 2017.

“We have (optional) summer workouts three days a week,” Snell said. “We’ve got 48 kids who will be suited up and ready to go for preseason practice Aug. 17.”

Naomi and Fritz Miller of Union started the Medomak Youth Football program four years ago for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. A high school component was added the following fall.

Their oldest son, Cyril, had played youth football in Rockland and Camden before, as a high school sophomore, joining a Lincoln County club team in Damariscotta. In 2012, he finally had the chance to play for Medomak Valley, albeit on a club level under Snell, who had been with the program since 2011.

“Just being able to play on the front field of his own school and wear his own colors was so worth it,” said Naomi Miller, who also has a 14-year-old freshman named Elias. “Our community is ripe for football. It’s a hard-working, blue-collar community where people are used to digging clams and raking blueberries. We’re not afraid of hard work and getting dirty.”

This fall’s upperclassmen (14 seniors and 20 juniors) were in seventh and eighth grades when the program started. The Panthers also will play a seven-game junior varsity schedule.

The Millers accepted donations of helmets and shoulder pads from Brunswick and attracted Snell, who had moved to town with his wife and daughters. Medomak Youth Football will donate more than $25,000 worth of equipment to the school system, and continue to raise funds to pay for expenses that include uniforms and travel. The school will pay stipends to Snell and three assistant coaches: Jason Dexter, Brandon Brents and Robert Daigle.

Because there was an odd number of teams in the conference last fall, each agreed to play an exhibition against Medomak Valley on a bye date.

“That was a huge advantage to us,” said Matt Lash, the school’s athletic director. “Our kids got an invaluable experience last year to get acclimated to that level of play.”

This fall’s schedule includes two home night games – played under rented construction lights – against Houlton and, during the first week of the playoffs, Ellsworth. Like Medomak Valley, Ellsworth is not yet playoff-eligible so the teams agreed to meet for a second game (their first is Oct. 17) on Oct. 30.

“We had close to 1,000 people last year for our game under the lights against Houlton,” Lash said. “People are ready for football. It’s going to be exciting.”