An organization of prominent football coaches in Maine has thrown its support behind eight-man high school football.

“To our group, eight-man football is better than no-man football and I think that’s what communities have to come to grips with,” said Colby College Coach Jack Cosgrove, president of Maine’s chapter of the National Football Foundation.

Cosgrove said the group will do its part by offering financial support for eight-man coaching clinics.

The group made the unanimous decision to publicly support eight-man football at its Wednesday meeting, one day after the Maine Principals’ Association released a proposal for two divisions for eight-man football next fall.

Some of the 20 schools placed in the eight-man divisions, including Cape Elizabeth and Freeport, intend to remain 11-man teams.

Others such as Yarmouth and Old Orchard Beach have indicated they will shift to eight-man football in 2019.


“To me, if you don’t have 30 kids you shouldn’t be allowed to play 11-man football,” Cosgrove said. “You need a volume of players to practice this game safely, to play this game safely, and to go out and compete.”

The MPA does not have a roster minimum for 11-man football but recommends no fewer than 20 players.

Maine’s National Football Foundation chapter includes Cosgrove, Gabby Price of Husson and Mike Lichten of the University of New England, and retired coaches such as Walter Abbott (UMaine), Howard Vandersea (Bowdoin), Pete Cooper (Lawrence High) and Mike Bailey (Portland High).

The group also went on record in support of playing flag football until players reach adolesence.

“I’ve always been a believer in flag football but the more I’ve read, the more I believe in it,” said John Wolfgram, a NFF member who won 309 games and 10 state titles as a high school coach, and is an assistant at Cheverus. “Particularly for pre-adolescent kids, there’s a danger to be involved in contact football.”

Flag also increases the fun factor, Wolfgram said, because “everyone gets to experience ball-carrying and throwing the ball.”


Maine’s NFF chapter did not set an age for tackle to begin but Wolfgram said the Aspen Institute of Sport’s 2018 report calling for a shift to flag before age 14 “made a lot of sense.”

Cosgrove said eight-man and flag football are not new topics among coaches. They know fewer kids play football. Nationally, football players age 6 to 12 declined by nearly 17 percent from 2010 to 2017, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The number of high school football players in Maine declined 16.9 percent between 2008 and 2017.

“It’s nothing new for anybody, the concern for safety. The dramatic impact of concussion knowledge and the sharing of that information related to concussions has gotten the attention of parents,” Cosgrove said.

What has changed is the Maine NFF chapter now publicly says there are options to 11-man football and, particularly for small schools, eight-man is a better option.

“We’re all for young boys playing football and reaping the benefits of the game, and no one ever seems to mention that football is a positive thing. Sometimes that’s lost in the equation,” said Vandersea, Bowdoin’s coach from 1984-2000.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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