Jonathan Knight of Edward Little High School cuts across the middle after a first half reception during a game against Cheverus in Auburn last October. Sun Journal file photo by Daryn Slover

Coaches from Edward Little, Lewiston and Oxford Hills welcome the competitive challenge the Maine Principals’ Association’s latest Class A football classification proposal would present, but also wonder why it would limit their class to eight teams.

Last week, the MPA’s football and classification committees both unanimously approved a plan that would place the top eight schools in the state in enrollment in Class A. The proposal still requires the approval of the MPA membership at its annual spring meeting on April 25.

The eight Class A teams for 2019 are (by current enrollment): Thornton Academy (1,476), Lewiston (1,420), Bangor (1,202), Bonny Eagle (1,094), Oxford Hills (1,063), Edward Little (998), Sanford (982) and Scarborough (973).

The move would put Edward Little, Lewiston and Oxford Hills in direct competition with the three schools that have combined to win the last seven Class A state championships — Thornton Academy (four), Bonny Eagle (two) and Scarborough (one) — by an average margin of 22.9 points.

Edward Little coach Dave Sterling, Lewiston coach Darren Hartley and Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren all agreed that the move would be a step up in competition for their teams

“We’re going to play any schedule that the MPA gives us,” Sterling said. “Our guys will rise to the challenge.”

Hartley, who was hired as Lewiston’s varsity head coach earlier this spring and has also coached at Edward Little, said the move doesn’t change his overall goal to make the Blue Devils a state football power again but does give the rebuilding plan more urgency.

“Expectations have to go up. It is what it is. We have a great football community and we just have to step up to the plate,” Hartley said. “At the end of the day, we’re not going to be able to hide from TA, Bonny Eagle and Scarborough. If you want to be the best, you’re going to have to play the best.”

Soehren, whose Vikings lost to Portland, 21-14, in last year’s Class A North championship, said the plan would be good for his program in the long run but wondered why some other Class A teams were being left behind.

“It’s good for us to play the best. We want to be the best. But I can’t believe that eight-team proposal is what went through,” Soehren said.

Class A currently consists of two seven-team regions, split into North and South. The proposal would increase the number of teams in Class B from 17 to 22, with Cheverus, Deering, Massabesic, Portland, South Portland and Windham moving from Class A to Class B.

Sterling and Soehren said they were disappointed the new Class A would not include some of those schools, particularly Portland and Deering. The schools no longer include Casco Bay High School (approximately 375 enrollment) in their enrollment for MPA purposes.

“The whole dilemma with the Portland schools,” Sterling said, “is very frustrating, with Portland not having Casco Bay High School (enrollment) anymore, and then Portland, once you take them out, becomes a Class B school, and the two (Portland) schools can’t be in separate classes.”

Soehren said he attended football and classification committee meetings early this year where realignment was discussed and was surprised both committees supported an eight-team proposal. Other options discussed included an 18-team class divided into three six-team pods for scheduling purposes.

Soehren believes Casco Bay not being included in the Portland schools’ enrollment is inconsistent with how other schools with vocational schools, including his, are counted.

“I guess my issue is, you know, they have the resources to have a separate school, which is great, but we all have populations of kids in all of our schools that don’t play football as well, and that was their argument, that those kids don’t play football,” he said.

“In our vocational school, in our building trades, our logging and forestry, we have a ton of kids that don’t play football. I wish they did. We’ve had a couple, but there are kids that just don’t. Their interests lie elsewhere,” he said. “I don’t know why the Portland schools get to take away that population and classify down.”

Soehren added that Portland (regional champs in 2015, 2016, 2018) and Windham (2014, 2017) moving down to Class B could create more of a competitive imbalance in that class.

“I think it’s unfair to even the Class B schools,” Soeheren added, “having to play the past five years of Class A North state championship schools. That’s just an outrageous thing when we’re trying to build equity in Maine, when we’re going to eight-man, which I think is great, that they would move those teams down, (and) that the biggest city in the state of Maine has three Class B football schools.”

The plan has raised questions whether some schools are willing or perhaps even want to move down a class amidst questions about declining numbers and the short-term competitiveness of the programs in Class A.

Soehren noted that in 2013, the first year that the Portland area schools moved to what was then Class A East, his Vikings lost their homecoming game to Portland, 68-0 and ended the season 1-7.

Oxford Hills went from winning six games total in the first three years of that alignment to finishing the regular season 4-4 in 2016 and 2017 and 6-2 last year. That included a 31-22 win over Bonny Eagle and two close losses to Portland.

“It’s hard for me to rationalize going down when they just need to get better, just like we did, just like Lewiston and Edward Little has,” Soehren said.

The plan has also received criticism from some corners of the state because it could bring about the end of some traditional rivalries, but that wasn’t a problem for the local coaches.

“For us, our immediate rivals are Edward Little and Oxford Hills, and, of course, Bangor has been a great rivalry for Lewiston. So that doesn’t change for us,” Hartley said.


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