My, how Class C football is growing.
Too much, for some of the old guard’s taste.
Don’t get the coaches at Jay, Livermore Falls, Lisbon and Winthrop wrong. They’re happy to see the benefits of Maine high school football’s rampant growth trickle down to their nook and cranny of the pigskin universe. More teams and more students playing the game are signs that the sport they love is thriving and the system they believe in is working.
But a few of the short-term and potential long-range costs make them cringe.
“I think it’s getting too big,” said Livermore Falls coach Brad Bishop. “I think we need a Class D. But we’ve been saying that forever.”
Western Class C, the small-school division of the Campbell Conference, expands from 10 to 14 teams when the ball is launched into the air at 7 p.m. Friday night.
That whips up a whirlwind of changes. Some will become apparent to coaches, players and fans immediately.
Madison and Carrabec now form a cooperative team, still eligible to play in Class C because the combined enrollment of the two schools checks in beneath the Maine Principals’ Association’s new, generous Class C cutoff line of 505. That reclassification also allowed Eastern Class B schools Oak Hill and Maranacook, on both the geographical and numerical borderline, to slide into Western C.
Those three teams will join Jay, Livermore Falls, Winthrop and Dirigo in the North division.
Lisbon, Old Orchard Beach, Traip, Yarmouth, Boothbay and first-year varsity programs Freeport and Sacopee Valley comprise a South division that appears to be the weaker and much younger of the two, for now.
Each team will play a round-robin schedule against the other teams in its division, plus two crossover contests.
“I wanted them to use Interstate-95 as the cutoff line,” said Dirigo coaach Doug Gilbert. “I thought that would bring Sacopee in with us and give them Oak Hill and make it a little bit more even.”
Tradition is a difficult inequity to measure, mainly because it may change quickly. Not long ago, for instance, Madison was a thriving mill town and one of the premier football programs in the state, regardless of class.
Coaches are more concerned with the disparity between student bodies in the far-flung superconference.
“Nobody wants to hear me bellyache after the season we had last year,” said Winthrop coach Joel Stoneton, who guided the Ramblers to last year’s conference crown. “But my enrollment’s down to 260. Boothbay last I heard is down to 216 kids. Now you’re asking me, with Oak Hill, Maranacook, Madison/Carrabec and Lisbon as one of my two crossover games to play four of my eight games against schools with 400 or 450-plus kids.”
The changes will have a mixed impact on traditional rivalries.
Jay, Livermore Falls and Winthrop will play their annual donnybrooks against one another. Ditto for Lisbon and Old Orchard Beach.
But at least for the next two years, with the exception of a preseason scrimmage and barring a collision in the playoffs, Jay and Lisbon won’t face each other in a meaningful game. Winthrop-Boothbay, another red-hot rivalry that has crossed over from basketball into football, will go unrenewed in 2009.
“It’s tough not to play Lisbon. We just saw them Monday night in a scrimmage and knocked the crap out of each other,” said Jay coach Mark Bonnevie. “I don’t think either one of us scored.”
Oak Hill, meanwhile, gets the benefit of a crossover game with nextdoor neighbor Lisbon, reviving a regular-season relationship that was dormant for nearly a decade.
That’s a marked change for the Raiders, who endured road trips to Mount Desert Island, Old Town and Hampden in recent years as an odd duck in so-called Eastern Maine.
“We get to play Lisbon again. We still play Maranacook. There are a lot of people with relatives and friends at the other school, so those are fun games,” said Oak Hill coach Dave Wing. “There’s so much tradition with those old Mountain Valley Conference teams. We’re looking forward to it.”
With its 10 existing teams, Western Class C had the ideal number for a nine-game, round-robin schedule, with four teams clearing the playoff threshold.
The new, uneven numbers force the league into another good news/bad news situation.
Let’s get the bad out of the way. Coaches must put spread sheets and calculators to work, as the Crabtree Point System will seed the playoff grid. The Crabtrees, now used by every division in the state except Western B, factor strength of schedule with winning percentage to determine a team’s value.
That leaves some of the coaches in the perceived weaker South segment uneasy.
“We come out of the gate with Oak Hill and Old Orchard Beach,” said Lisbon coach Dick Mynahan. “With Oak Hill being from the other division and OOB being I think the favorite on our side, we kind of have to approach our schedule a little differently. Those games might say a lot about our season. We know there’s a possibility that only three teams from our division will get into the playoffs.”
Mynahan’s last comment hints at the good news: The playoff field doubles in size from four to eight.
“I like that, because it seems to favor the teams that get better as the season goes along,” Bonnevie said. “We lost two double-overtime games last year, and our season basically was done. We were one play away from making the playoffs. If we’d gotten in, I would have liked our chances with the way we were playing.”

One year after rolling over the rest of the league on its way to the championship, a younger Winthrop team could benefit from the expanded postseason as it plots a title defense.
That’s small consolation to Stoneton.
“You could even see six teams from the North and two from the South make it this year, and that’s not good for anybody,” Stoneton said. “They didn’t factor enrollment into this at all, and depth is such a factor in Class C football. You’re only a couple of injuries away from a disastrous situation.
“It’s frustrating, because for the 10 years I’ve been involved as a coach, Class C is constantly changing all the time. There’s no continuity to it at all.”
Gilbert, whose Dirigo program worked with Buckfield in order to revive itself earlier his decade, will see 13 seniors graduate after this season and find himself in Stoneton’s position.
The longtime wrestling coach knows that fielding a competitive Campbell Conference team isn’t as easy as making a recruiting sweep through the school hallways.
“My theory is that for every 100 kids in your school, you have about 10 (male) athletes,” Gilbert said. “So where some of the schools in our league have 50 athletes to choose from, I’ve got 30, and I’ve got to share them with soccer.”
The teams on the smaller end of the enrollment scale could catch a break in two years, when another growth cycle may force the MPA’s hand. Telstar and Monmouth may consider elevating to varsity status in 2011. Buckfield also has an established club team, and several Aroostook County schools are now playing eight-man football.
“We were told at our coaches’ meeting that if we get two more teams, they will consider a fourth class for football,” Stoneton said.
So, in other words, be aware of the changes. Just don’t get too used to them.

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