Dirigo’s Mike Packard (8) drags Maranacook defenders as he fights for extra yards and Maranacook’s Joe Albert, left, dives into the fray during a Class E playoff game in Dixfield in November 2018. The Cougars advanced to the state title game that year, their first an only in Class E, before canceling their 2019 season after one game. Dirigo now hopes to play eight-man football in 2020. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Dirigo and Spruce Mountain will be among the schools asking to switch to eight-man football next season, athletic directors for both schools confirmed Thursday.

The decisions came before the Maine Principals’ Association’s “soft” deadline of Friday for schools across the state to request a switch to eight-man. The MPA’s football committee meets Jan. 13 to begin discussing who will be playing eight-man and what the affect on 11-man football will be.

Dirigo, which canceled its varsity schedule a little more than one week into last season due to low numbers, has asked the football committee to endorse its application to return to varsity football next year, which requires a waiver from the MPA’s management committee.

Dirigo athletic director Jessica McGreevy and an ad hoc football advisory committee will be presenting its recommendation to switch to eight-man football at the RSU 56 school board meeting on Jan. 14, McGreevy said. On Jan. 16 at 7 p.m., there will be a public information meeting on the change at Dirigo High School.

McGreevy said the committee, which was open to public participation but included senior football players, parents, school board members and youth football organizers, arrived at the eight-man football recommendation after considering other options, including a co-operative arrangement with neighboring schools or trying to continue as an 11-man varsity or JV program. It deemed the eight-man option best for the program’s long-term success and safety of the players, based on projected numbers.

“The numbers for the most part seem to be around 20, with up to as many as 24, so we thought being in that range, we’d have enough kids to be able to successfully field an eight-man program,” McGreevy said.

Dirigo went from 1990-2002 without a varsity football program, and the committee did not want another prolonged period of time without it. Players also stressed how much they missed Friday night games under the lights while playing a six-game JV schedule this fall, McGreevy said.

“The kids felt that loss and I think the community certainly did, too,” she said.

Spruce Mountain, which went 6-5 and reached the Class D South semifinals this season, is making the switch as a proactive move to keep the program and its players healthy, athletic director Marc Keller said.

Brandon Frey of Spruce Mountain runs the ball against Mountain Valley in Livermore Falls on Nov. 1, 2019. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“We are going to petition to go to eight-man,” Keller said. “Our numbers are low and we don’t have a lot of upperclassmen next year, so for the safety of our younger kids we need to try to join that league at this point in time.”

Mike Burnham, MPA executive director of the interscholastic division, stressed the Jan. 13 MPA football committee meeting will not set the stage for an overhaul of classification enrollment cut-offs for the 2020 season. Classification is currently in year one of a two-year cycle.

“We asked schools that if they are planning on going to eight-man to let us know by (Friday), which is when most everybody is going on the holiday break,” Burnham said. “That gives us the time here to compile all of the information for the football committee. At that (Jan. 13) meeting, we’ll take the information that we’ve heard (to give the committee a better idea) how many eight-man schools do we have and how is that going to impact what’s left in these divisions.”

Burnham said Friday’s deadline isn’t firm, and schools probably won’t have to even make a final decision by the Jan. 13 meeting, but the football committee does want to finalize as much as it can as quickly as it can so that schools can begin the process of making their schedules for football and other fall sports.

But in addition to deciding what schools will play eight-man next year, the committee will also have to decide what the make-up of eight-man will be, whether there will be more than one state championship in eight-man football, and what, if any, changes need to be made in 11-man football if a significant number of schools switch to eight-man.

In its first season, eight-man football had 10 teams split into two five-team divisions, large school and small school. The top four from each division made the playoffs, and the winners of both divisions met in the state championship game (large school champion Mt. Ararat defeated small school Old Orchard Beach, 58-25). That format could change, Burnham said.

Dirigo’s Dallas Berry runs the ball during the Class E state championship in Freeport in November 2018. Dirigo has canceled its 2019 season after one game due to a lack of players and is now planning to switch to eight-man football in 2020. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file photo

A number of Class D North schools, as well as Class C schools such as Morse and Lake Region have discussed switching from 11-man to eight-man football, Burnham said. He declined to say which schools have formally requested the MPA’s permission, saying that a number of schools are still seeking their community’s input on a possible change.

Burnham commended McGreevy for getting student and community involvement in the discussion about Dirigo’s future, as well as requesting support from the football committee before going to the management committee.

“I think they need to (get community input). You can’t make a decision like this and not involve the community. Football is too high-profile,” Burnham said.

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