ROCKPORT — Eight-man football will be introduced in Maine this fall after winning approval Thursday morning at the Maine Principals’ Association’s general membership meeting at the Samoset Resort.

Traip Academy and Old Orchard Beach are two of the Maine high schools that will make the switch to eight-man football this fall. Photo by Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald

Thursday’s vote on high school football also reduces Class A, featuring the state’s largest schools, from 14 to eight teams. Six teams that previously played in Class A will move to Class B, which will expand from 17 to 22 teams.

While some athletic directors, including Thornton Academy’s Gary Stevens and Sanford’s Gordie Salls, spoke against the proposal to shrink Class A, reclassification for football passed easily by a hand vote.

Eight-man football was played in 18 states in 2017, but it has never been sponsored by the MPA until now. The idea gained traction in Maine last fall with many schools struggling to maintain rosters large enough to play the traditional 11-man version of the sport.

The vast majority of Maine high school teams will continue to play 11-man football, but 10 schools are opting for the eight-man version. Mt. Ararat, Gray-New Gloucester, Yarmouth, Ellsworth and Maranacook will be grouped into a large-school division, and Sacopee Valley, Traip Academy, Old Orchard Beach, Telstar and Boothbay will play in the other division. The winners of each division will play for a state championship.

Eight-man football is played with two fewer linemen and one less receiver or running back on offense. Already, athletic directors have been meeting to iron out details for what the sport will look like in Maine. While some states play eight-man football on a shorter field, in Maine it will be played on the traditional 100-yard field so teams can kick at the goalpost at both ends, according to Yarmouth AD Susan Robbins. The field width has yet to be determined.

“We’re circulating the eight-man rules to coaches,” Robbins said. “There’s an overall excitement to it all.”

There was no discussion about eight-man football before Thursday’s vote. Instead, the debate on football classification focused on changes at the top. Class A has been dominated by three programs in recent years, with Thornton Academy, Bonny Eagle and Scarborough combining to win the last seven state titles.

Thornton’s Stevens argued that concerns about competitive balance should be addressed by having more schools in Class A, not fewer. Earlier proposals this winter by the MPA’s Football Committee had Class A expanding from 14 to either 16 or 18 teams.

“A larger Class A will give teams more competitive games,” Stevens said.

Instead, Class A will include only eight schools that have more than 950 students. When the MPA changed how Casco Bay High is included in factoring enrollments at Deering and Portland highs, both of those schools dropped below the 950 cutoff and now will play in Class B for football. Other longtime Class A football teams shifting to Class B are South Portland, Windham, Massabesic and Cheverus. Three of the teams dropping to Class B – Cheverus, Windham and Portland – combined to win the last six Class A North titles.

In speaking against the football proposal, Sanford’s Salls said the teams moving from Class A to B are facing internal problems in building their programs, not external forces.

“We shouldn’t ask the MPA to fix that,” Salls said. “Are we (Sanford) going to beat the top three teams in Class A? Probably not, but we will be competitive.”

Cony football coach B.L. Lippert said the changes will make an already competitive Class B even more challenging.

“We’ll play the schedule they give us. It’s odd to have eight teams in one class and 22 in another,” Lippert said in a phone interview Thursday. “Any time you draw a line, somebody is going to be upset. That just makes it a tougher path. The road gets a little harder for those of us who have traditionally been in B.”

Tim Spear, athletic director at Gorham High, said his football program is slowly rebuilding. After bouncing between Class A and B, Gorham has found a good home in Class B, Spear said, adding he hopes in the future the MPA uses factors other than just enrollment in determining class, such as the percentage of underclassmen on given teams.

“Football is different than any other sport. We have to understand that. There’s a safety issue,” Spear said.

The MPA membership also voted to set the enrollment cutoff for Class D basketball at 129 and fewer students. While the MPA’s Classification Committee supported the 129 cutoff, the Management Committee recommended increasing the cutoff to 139 to address the concerns of a handful of schools – Richmond, Woodland, Fort Fairfield, Central Aroostook and Hodgdon – on the lower end of Class C. MPA Executive Director Dick Durost said this was the first time in 33 years the membership was asked to consider separate recommendations from two committees.

Richmond Athletic Director Jonathan Spear noted that there were only nine teams in Class D South boys’ basketball last winter, as opposed to 17 in Class C South.

“If we are looking for balance, this is not balance. Look at Class C. It’s huge,” Spear said.

Speaking for the smallest schools, Forest Hills athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Anthony Amero said the schools with fewer than 100 students are already at a disadvantage.

“Basketball is the one thing we can be competitive in,” said Amero, whose team won the Class D state title this winter with a school enrollment of 37. “Going to 139 is a step backward from the hard work we’ve put in over the last few years.”

With the 129-student cutoff approved, Class C basketball will have 41 schools in the upcoming two-year cycle and Class D will have 27.

Citing increased costs, the MPA membership also voted to raise the ticket price for tournament games to $10 from $8 for adults. The ticket price for students and seniors will remain $5. This is the MPA’s first ticket price increase since 2012, Durost said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: TLazarczykMTM


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