H.S. football: Overachieving but undermanned Greely program weighing its options

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The Greely football team huddles up during practice last month. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald)

Greely High School’s football team has been celebrated for doing a lot with a little.

But next year’s varsity roster is expected to be even smaller than this year’s band of 22 Rangers. Administrators, coaches and booster members in Cumberland said they have to start looking at options — including joining forces with another school on a cooperative team or opting for eight-man football.

The dilemma of maintaining a football program is not unique to Greely. The Maine Principals’ Association is weighing introduction of eight-man football next fall to help programs struggling to maintain sufficient roster sizes. The MPA has no minimum standard for rosters, but recommends having at least 20 players.

As presently proposed, eight-man football would be available for schools with enrollment of fewer than 350 students. Greely has 638, according to the MPA.

“I think it’s going to be a stretch to come up with a program as we know it today,” said David Higgins, the varsity football coach at Greely for 10 years. “I just don’t see where they’re going to get the players.”

A meeting will be held Tuesday evening at the high school to discuss options for next season, said Steve Carey, the president of the Greely Football Boosters. Carey said there are no plans to eliminate football, in part because the number of tackle football players at the elementary-school level is stable.

“We’re determined to make sure our kids have the opportunity to play football, not just next year but for the next six, seven years,” Carey said.

Greely athletic director David Shapiro added: “Any student-athletes that want to play football next year, we’re going to find a way to make that happen.”

Greely finished the 2018 season 5-5 in Class B South. The Rangers won a playoff game for the fourth straight season, beating Biddeford before being eliminated Saturday by top-seeded Kennebunk, 42-8. Greely played most of the season dressing less than 20 players for games and will graduate 10 seniors.

“Of those 10 seniors, seven started on one side of the ball and eight on the other side,” Higgins said.

This fall, Greely football’s seventh- and eighth-graders played for the first time on team combined with Yarmouth players. Four Greely eighth-graders played on the team, Carey said. The program has adequate numbers among younger age groups, he said, including 18 players on the sixth-grade tackle team.

In October, the MPA football committee generated a draft for reclassification. It includes a new four-class system for 11-man football, an eight-man league for schools with fewer than 350 students, and the elimination of the Class E developmental league.

As proposed, 11-man football would have a 10-team statewide Class AA for the nine largest schools plus Cheverus; 10-team North and South divisions in Class A (650-950 students) and Class B (470-650); and a seven-team Class C South and an eight-team Class C North for schools between 350-469 students. The 13 smallest football programs are in the eight-man class, though it is likely some would apply to remain 11-man teams.

Portland, Windham, South Portland and Massabesic would be shifted to A South, along with six current Class B teams.

“It’s very much a draft right now,” said Susan Robbins, a member of the football committee and Yarmouth’s athletic director.

The football committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 29.

Eight-man football “is going to happen,” said South Portland Athletic Administrator Todd Livingston. The question is how many schools want to play eight-man and if that group includes larger schools like Greely.

“Is it 12 schools or 20 schools?” Livingston asked, adding that re-alignment can’t be done effectively “until you know who’s going to form co-ops or eight-man teams.”

Under the plan, Greely would be placed in the proposed Class B South, which would be very similar to the current Class C South.

Yarmouth is another southern Maine school that could be looking at eight-man or forming a co-op, said Robbins.

Robbins said Yarmouth will graduate 12 of its current 31 players. Jason Veilleux, who resigned as Yarmouth’s varsity coach last week because he is moving to the Bridgton area, said he doesn’t expect more than three current eighth-graders to play.

“I personally think eight-man would be perfect for Yarmouth,” Veilleux said.

Shapiro and Robbins said they have not discussed the idea of a Yarmouth-Greely co-operative. That combination would likely push the team into a higher classification. Shapiro said any co-operative would need to be with a nearby school “and that means Falmouth, Yarmouth or maybe Gray-New Gloucester.”

Greely High School football head coach Dave Higgins sets up a special teams drill at practice in September. The school had to drop its junior varsity team this season due to a low number of players. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald)

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