Tonight, the hypothetical finally becomes reality.
Maine high school football took years to make the complicated but necessary transition from three enrollment classes to four.
Plans were written and rewritten. Teams were moved, then in some cases moved again.
There’s no turning back now. The ball will fly through the air tonight at more than two dozen sites from Millinocket to South Berwick at the stroke of 7 o’clock.
And while coaches and players probably won’t notice any differences once they take their tunnel vision into the heat of battle, fans certainly will.
No fewer than four weekend games involving local teams feature regular-season matchups that couldn’t have happened one year ago.
In some corners, rivals will be reunited. Lake Region travels to Poland in a showdown of neighbors separated only by the stretch of Route 11 that snakes through Casco.
For the past two years, Lake Region has fought an uphill battle against traditional Class B teams, while Poland competed in a Class C division that featured mostly schools now in Class D.
They meet in what has been rechristened Western Class C, and you won’t catch Poland coach Ted Tibbetts either complaining or celebrating.
“I don’t care. I remember Ted Heroux from Belfast at a wrestling meeting once. There was a big discussion about where this kid should go in the tournament, and Ted said, ‘You can seed him wherever you want. He’s going to win anyway,'” Tibbetts said. “I think if you worry too much about who you play, you’re not focused enough on what you need to do to be successful, and that sends the wrong message to your kids.”
Poland exchanges the likes of Winslow, Lisbon, Dirigo and Oak Hill for Wells, Leavitt, Mountain Valley and Cape Elizabeth on the adjusted schedule.
Some have suggested that it’s a step up for the Knights, even though they’re technically staying in Class C. Tibbetts won’t concede that.
“It keeps it fresh. In talking with (Lisbon coach) Dick Mynahan last year, he said he couldn’t remember a year with as many good teams in that conference, and he’s been in the league a long time,” Tibbetts said. “The field is still 100 yards long. The team that makes the fewest mistakes still usually wins.”
In other Western Class C games resulting from boardroom juxtaposition, Leavitt is at Cape Elizabeth and Gray-New Gloucester is at Yarmouth on Friday night, with Spruce Mountain traveling to Freeport on Saturday.
Leavitt competed in Class B since coach Mike Hathaway’s days as a quarterback in the late 1980s. Cape Elizabeth moved into B in 2004, its first year of playoff eligibility after launching the program.
The two schools competed on different sides of the ledger; Leavitt formerly in the ‘B’ segment of the Pine Tree Conference and Cape competing among the larger schools in the Campbell Conference. Their only previous meeting came in the 2009 state final, with the Hornets winning their third Gold Ball in 15 years.
Consider that rampant success — Leavitt also went to the Class B final in 2010 and 2011 — and yes, there are some who would equate the Hornets’ nominal “drop” into Western C with cherrypicking. Hathaway looks the richness of football tradition in the league and sees otherwise.
“You look at two guys like Jim Aylward (of Mountain Valley) and Tim Roche (of Wells), and how many years have they been coaching against each other? Mountain Valley has won Class B championships. Wells has won a Class B championship,” Hathaway said. “We open on the road against Cape and Yarmouth, and they’ve been in state games and won titles. There’s a lot of depth in this league.”
Mountain Valley was one of only two schools — Biddeford was the other, in Class A — to petition the Maine Principals’ Association with a request to play above its assigned division.
The Falcons had the option of dropping all the way to Class D due to their enrollment, which has dipped to the low 400s.
Aylward didn’t have to seek many opinions around the community or state when deciding the right thing to do. Yes, the Falcons are young, with 40 players on the roster who are either freshmen or sophomores, and yes, they’re coming off an extremely rare losing season. But the same Mountain Valley program won Class B state titles in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
“We couldn’t even have done this (move below Class B) three years ago. We were just coming off winning a Class B title, and now people were going to see us as dropping into Class C,” Aylward said. “No offense at all to Lisbon, Dirigo, Winthrop/Monmouth. There are some good teams in that league. I just don’t think the people in Rumford were interested in seeing us playing Class D football. I don’t think they would have shown up for those games.”
There won’t be as many four-hour round trips for the Falcons in their new league.
Mountain Valley revives a rivalry with Leavitt that had been dormant for more than a decade. They’ll also continue playing Spruce Mountain, the program that formed with the merger of Livermore Falls and Jay in 2011.
“This is where we belong,” Aylward said. “This is a good fit for us.”
Larger schools in the region will see more status-quo games for starters, but that changes in a big way next weekend.
Class B champion Mt. Blue hosts time-honored Eastern Class A power Lawrence in an Eastern B clash Sept. 13. As for the current Class A, its changing face will be on full display in a trio of Week 2 showdowns: Sanford at Oxford Hills, Windham at Edward Little, and Lewiston at Cheverus.