AUBURN — St. Dom’s will forego its varsity boys’ basketball schedule and play a junior varsity schedule this season, athletic director J.P. Yorkey said Tuesday.
Yorkey said he made the final decision Monday due to lack of sufficient numbers. The team, starting its first year under head coach Kenny Poulin, began with 12 students registered for tryouts, but was down to just seven as of Monday.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Yorkey said. “Coming into the year, we knew our numbers were going to be low, but with 12 kids registered we were going to try to move forward.”
Yorkey said the Western Maine Conference and opponents on the Saints’ 18-game schedule, which included Poland and Buckfield, have been informed of the decision. St. Dom’s was scheduled to open the season Friday night at Traip Academy. Traip has filled the opening in its schedule with AR Gould, Yorkey said.
St. Dom’s went 0-18 each of the past two seasons under coach Jake Webb. Prior to that, the Saints reached the Class C tournament 10 years in a row, the most recent appearance ending with a preliminary round loss to Maranacook in 2015. They finished 10-9 that year under Todd Flaherty.
Poulin said he met with players and their parents before tryouts and informed them that the plan was to move forward with a varsity season. The largest number of players he had at tryouts and practices was nine, and two of them eventually left the team, including one who suffered his fourth concussion in a minor car accident.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back was another player left over the weekend,” Yorkey said. “(On Monday), I alerted the MPA and met with the kids (Monday) night.”
All of the remaining players were underclassmen, including three freshmen, Poulin said.
“An 18-game schedule with just seven kids didn’t seem feasible,” Poulin said. “We’re a sprained ankle, an illness or an ineligibility away from not being able to play at all, and that’s not fair to the kids or our opponents.”
Yorkey and Poulin are continuing to work to fill the JV schedule, which is made more difficult by the fact that a growing number of schools don’t have JV teams.
“We’re going to play whoever wants to play, and play as many games as we can,” Poulin said.
Of course, the Saints’ JV roster will be thin, too. But Poulin, who played at Edward Little and was an assistant coach at Lewiston for six years, is determined to use this season to start building the program back up and have a competitive varsity team ready for next season.
“We have kids in this building that can play and I hope to make them see what we have to offer them and have them here next season,” he said.
He said he is encouraged by the school’s primary and middle school teams having good numbers this year, as well as the positive attitude of the remaining high school players, who he led through practice on Tuesday.
“Those kids haven’t given up,” he said, “and I’m certainly not giving up on them.”
Alternatives in place
Yorkey sent the affected opponents, who represent a cross-section of Class B, C and D schools, proposed alternative opponents to replace the Saints on their schedules.
“J.P. did a real good job with an initial proposal for all the schools to fill the holes, the void, left by St. Dom’s and looking at the emails from the affected schools, it looks like most are open to the changes,” Jack Hardy, athletic director at North Yarmouth Academy, told the Portland Press Herald.
Buckfield and Poland will pick up NYA to fill those three teams’ schedules.
Poland was scheduled to host the Saints on Dec. 12. Hardy and Poland athletic director Don King were still working on Tuesday to find a compatible date for that game.
“It’s just another thing you have to deal with during a season, just like the weather or injuries. You have to adapt,” Poland coach Tyler Tracy said of the disruption to his team’s schedule. “You feel bad for St. Dom’s. It sounds like they’ve tried to do the best for their athletes.”
Buckfield, which already has a game at NYA on Jan. 30, will host the Panthers on Jan. 3.
Buckfield coach Kyle Rines expressed disappointment over the loss of St. Dom’s on his team’s schedule. He said the Saints have been a mainstay on the Bucks’ schedule since he played for Buckfield about a decade ago. They played each other twice last year.
“(Current Gray-New Gloucester coach) Ryan Deschenes had a really strong program and some really talented teams there,” he said. “Hopefully, this isn’t forever. Looking at the schools in your area, you want them to do well.”
“For us, (adding another game with NYA) gives us a chance to earn some (Heal) points,” he added. “It’s always good to play a team twice.”
No future implications
In addition to NYA, six other teams had two games scheduled against St. Dom’s this season. MPA executive director Dick Durost said all teams had the option to fill their schedule void by picking up a second or even third game against another existing opponent.
Durost said none of the lost games will be considered a forfeit because St. Dom’s made the decision before the official start of the regular season on Friday.
That also means St. Dom’s won’t face any penalties for the decision. If it had started the regular season schedule and then decided to disband the varsity team at any point, MPA rules would have required it to wait two years before being eligible for varsity competition.
“After Friday, the schedules are frozen, for lack of a better term,” Durost said. “St. Dom’s dealt with their issue by taking care of it this week, prior to Friday, and there will be no other implications.”
Durost said it is not uncommon for Maine schools, particularly small schools, to face a similar dilemma in basketball and other sports due to lack of players.
“I would say each sport season, fall, winter and spring, there are between one and three schools hoping to field a varsity team in a particular sport and have to leave,” he said.
At least two other schools have also dropped varsity basketball this season due to lack of players. Islesboro cancelled its boys’ varsity season last week. Greater Portland Christian of South Portland canceled it’s girls’ varsity season on Monday.
Portland Press Herald staff writer Steve Craig contributed to this report.
Breaking: St. Dom’s has decided to forego its varsity boys’ basketball schedule this season due to lack of numbers. Story will be up on https://t.co/936eInDv7C momentarily
— Randy Whitehouse (@RAWmaterial33) December 5, 2017
Gray New Gloucester’s John Henry Villanueva takes a shot as St. Dom’s Robbie Dick sneaks up from behind to steal the ball during a 2016 basketball game at St. Dom’s in Auburn. (Sun Journal file photo)