Dirigo’s Dallas Berry runs the ball during the Class E state championship in Freeport in November 2018. Dirigo has canceled its varsity football season after one game due to a lack of players. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file photo

A little more than one week into the regular season, Dirigo has decided to cancel the rest of its varsity football season.

The Dixfield high school announced the decision Wednesday night in a statement posted on the RSU 56 website. The Cougars were scheduled to host Spruce Mountain on Friday night. Last Friday, they lost the season-opener at Lake Region 34-13.

“RSU 56 has decided to disband the varsity football team for the remainder of the 2019 season,” the statement reads. “This decision came after the athletic director, superintendent of schools and board chair heard from the football coaches that the current roster poses safety risks for our students.”

Dirigo athletic director Jessica McGreevy told the Sun Journal that there were 20 players in the football program after the first week of the preseason but injuries quickly made lack of numbers a safety issue.

“We did have injuries that occurred. Last week, we had a few injuries that occurred during our Lake Region game that made going into this week seem not safe to go forth,” McGreevy said.

Dirigo played in Class E last season, which was considered a developmental league for schools struggling with numbers. The Cougars went 8-2 and lost to Freeport in the state championship game. The Maine Principals’ Association eliminated Class E this season with the introduction of eight-man football.

“We did have a conversation as a community about eight-man football last year,” McGreevy said. “At that point, we thought we would be able to play competitively in 11-man football.”

If there is sufficient student interest, Dirigo will petition the MPA for a waiver to move to eight-man football next season without penalty, McGreevy said.

In the meantime, the Cougars are hoping to cobble together a JV schedule for the remainder of this season. The team has continued to practice this week as McGreevy tries to find new opponents.

“We’ve been continuing to practice because we do want to keep the football program going,” she said. “We are going to work on getting games for our kids.”

Dirigo football coach Jim Hersom could not be reached for comment.

McGreevy said she contacted the schools Dirigo was slated to play this season Wednesday to notify them of the decision. The Cougars’ remaining schedule consisted of road games at Madison, Freeport and Old Town and home games against Oak Hill, Camden Hills and Mountain Valley.

Spruce Mountain athletic director Marc Keller said McGreevy talked to him earlier in the week about the possibility of the game and Dirigo’s season being canceled. She notified him officially of the decision early Wednesday night.

“I called (Spruce coach Dave Frey) immediately once I got off the phone with the AD,” he said. “We’re waiting to talk with the MPA and find out what’s going on and how to deal with it. Obviously, we want to be on the field and we want to play, but we’re not in the situation they’re in.”

Frey said Dirigo’s decision didn’t catch him or the team completely off-guard. He told his team during Wednesday’s practice that their game had been canceled.

“I had heard some rumblings about it, and I kind of thought (it was a possibility) when I looked at the film Sunday (of Dirigo’s game against Lake Region), when you looked across the field at their sideline and they had about 17 or 18 kids,” he said.

Spruce Mountain won last week’s opener against Poland at home, 38-35. Frey said the forfeit was early enough in the season that he wasn’t worried about it hurting his team’s momentum, but would “rather earn the win on the field.”

“On the positive side of it, kids that are banged up, it give us that extra week to heal. But now we’re going to have to wait that extra week before we play,” Frey said. “And, of all things, we don’t play until (next) Saturday (at Camden Hills).”

“You feel bad for the kids at Dirigo,” Frey added. “You hate to see that happen. Kids have been working hard, and the next thing they’re told their season is over.”

Dirigo is the second school to forfeit its 11-man schedule this season. Two weeks ago, Orono, which was set to play in Class D North, announced it was canceling its varsity football schedule due to low numbers.

“Numbers are dropping,” Frey said. “It’s a great sport. I love it. But it’s starting to die. You hate to admit it.”

In 2017, Traip Academy, playing in Class E, forfeited a game in Week 2 at Washington Academy, lost to Boothbay in Week 3, then forfeited the remainder of the season due to low numbers. The forfeits were listed as 2-0 losses. Traip returned to Class E the following year and is playing eight-man football this year.

 


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