Meet the new champs. Same as the old champs.

In the space of about 23 hours this past weekend, the four reigning high school football state champions evolved into four repeat high school football state champions. Those of us paid to write and broadcast such details reported this anomaly with disarming, matter-of-fact, oh-by-the-way detachment, as if it were normative.

You can’t completely hold it against us. Super Saturday’s games are rolled out one after another after another, challenging our deadlines, dividing our attention and furnishing little time for reflection. But now, Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, the enormity of that accomplishment is fully cooked.

I’ve had folks on social media ask me if the quadruple-double is unprecedented in Maine Principals’ Association football. Of course it is. Think about this: Between 1987 and 2012, an era in which there were only three gridiron enrollment classes, we never had all three champions repeat.

The last time we even saw three schools successfully defend the gold was 1984, when Biddeford, Lawrence and Marshwood pulled it off. Dexter dethroned Foxcroft and knocked off Oak Hill in the Class D final that year to deny us a grand slam of championship encores.

Country-rock outfit Zac Brown Band and versatile vocalist Chris Cornell recently teamed up for the musical declaration, “Heavy Is the Head” that wears the crown. Sports drives home that vagary of life with remarkable efficiency. It’s difficult to win a title. Defending one is next to impossible.

Consider the four major team sports. No team has repeated in the NFL since the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots. The last time it happened in MLB, I’m confident Derek Jeter was just beginning to shave while his 1998, 1999 and 2000 New York Yankees scored three in succession. To find the last NHL franchise that didn’t have to return Lord Stanley’s Cup, you must dial up the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings. And in the NBA … well, bad example, since the deck is stacked so that the team with the best player always wins.

While we’re thinking in groups of four, it’s worth noting that between the Stanley Cup and NBA finals of 1997 and the Super Bowl in 1999, the big four each produced repeat champions at the same time: Yankees, Red Wings, Denver Broncos and Chicago Bulls. To put that time window in perspective, let’s remind ourselves that the players on the current championship dynasties at Thornton, Marshwood, Winslow and Oak Hill were busy being born.

Hard to win. Harder to keep. We read and write about such programs as Skowhegan field hockey, Yarmouth soccer, Waterville track and field, Mt. Blue skiing or University of Connecticut women’s basketball doing this stuff year-in, year-out as if it’s their birthright. You don’t have to be ancient to remember when Lewiston, St. Dom’s and Waterville had 3-to-1 odds of hoisting the state trophy in ice hockey before the first puck of the season dropped.

We take excellence for granted because its purveyors make it look easy. No sport is easy. Every championship team has to find the correct blend of physical gifts, psychological strength, good health, and a connection between teammates that emanates from the spiritual realm. Oh, and good, old-fashioned luck never hurts. The humblest athletes and coaches admit that without shame.

This stuff is hard, but perhaps nowhere in the world is it more challenging and unlikely to go back-to-back as a champion than in high school football. For starters, a coach is guaranteed almost complete personnel turnover from year to year. The vast majority of high school football contributing players are juniors and seniors. Freshman and sophomores get their repetitions in practice, JV games and on special teams while puberty and the weight room perform their magic.

There is far greater risk of widespread injury in football than other sports. Marshwood was forced to groom a new quarterback in October. Oak Hill entered its third consecutive state final with the rarest of rarities, a three-year, two-way starter, questionable due to a knee injury. Ask state runner-ups Brunswick and Yarmouth if they would like a do-over with a healthy Will Bessey and Cody Cook, respectively.

Football is a grueling game that requires big numbers. Now factor in human nature, both for the defending team and its hungry opponents. There is a tendency to reach the mountaintop and forget the little things that got you there. It’s like gaining weight after you get married or living for the 5 o’clock whistle when you sense that you have job security.

Teenagers in football pads are no different. There is a temptation to think “we’ve got this” and not finish those sprints or weight lifting sets as aggressively. You can bet that the teams in that pack of pursuers have embraced the concept of extra mile, however, and you can be certain that they will treat every opportunity to play you as if a world championship is at stake.

Our four state champions, their coaches and their communities all overcame these threats to continue what is an unlikely simultaneous reign. It teeters on the brink of absurdity, really, which made it all the more inspiring and admirable to witness from the stands.

Congratulations. Now get back to work.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 and like his Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.