JAY — Athletic director Marc Keller and head football coach David Frey told a dozen parents and students during a special meeting Wednesday evening that Spruce Mountain might be switching to eight-man football or co-oping with other teams next season.

“The purpose of this meeting is to discuss what is going to happen with Spruce football,” Keller said.

Spruce Mountain has until January to choose an option or try to remain as an 11-man football team.

Keller, Frey and principal T.J. Plourde and other assistant coaches discussed the future of the program last year.

“Really, it revolves around numbers and where we are going to go,” Keller said. “We have a few options that we are looking at. One option, and just to make sure where everybody understands where we are at, is one of the things we are looking at is eight-man football.

“Another option, of course, is to do a cooperative with another team. A third option is to try and stay 11-man. I will tell you that is probably the most difficult option for us to look at. 

“Understand that these decisions are going to be made for the safety of athletes … that’s our most important consideration. We need to make sure our athletes here and the ones who are coming through the lines are going to be safe.”

Keller pointed out that a lot of high school players are not coming back and the program is youth-heavy. He said there is 16 returners who finished last year at varsity level.

“There are 15 incoming freshmen who played for AYS,” Keller said. “That’s an eighth-grade team.” 

Keller told parents that in 2017, there were 51 players on the Spruce football roster. In 2018, that number dropped to 38 and this year there were 32 players playing for the team.

“So the numbers are dwindling,” Keller said. “That is true across the board almost. The only sports we had over the past year that have increased in size is cross country, cheering and boys soccer. Everything else has gone down.”

Keller was asked about what schools might be interested in forming a co-op with Spruce.

“There is really not a whole lot out there,” Keller responded. “I spoke with a couple of athletic directors. … It has just been informal talks, if there even might be some interest. I don’t know that there is. That may not be an option for us.”

Frey and Keller attended the eight-man football championship to understand how football is played in that venue to prepare for Wednesday night’s meeting.

“What I saw wasn’t much different from 11-man,” Frey said. “It was unique. It was different, but I think it is doable. Like Mr. Keller said earlier, ‘What is best for the program.’”

Frey pointed out that maintaining a JV program is crucial to the development of players who won’t see much action at the varsity level, and that might be difficult for an 11-man team that is facing dwindling numbers.

Keller has spoken with other athletic directors and the Maine Principals’ Association, and they all said the eight-man leagues will grow.

“It is a one-year commitment to go eight-man,” Keller said.

He added Spruce also has the option to switch back to 11-man if the Phoenix’s numbers rise.

“I think a lot of schools hung back to see what was going to happen with eight-man this year, knowing that they were borderline, numbers-wise,” Keller said. “I think that is why you are going to see a number of schools going eight-man.

“There are a lot of good things about doing co-op. It is 11-man football, right! It’s been tradition. It is what we have been doing for a long time. It provides an opportunity to bring some other players into the mix. That all depends if anybody wants to co-op with us.”

Trevor Giroux asked about the numbers at the lower levels like Peewee, and Frey, who is president of the AYS board, told Giroux the numbers vary from year to year.

“We have to go back and restore the youth program and figure out what we can do to get more kids involved,” Frey said. “Like I said, the numbers are dropping.”

“I think this right here is a big part of our problem. We have a major issue in our community about our football program and our youth program all the way through to high school … and we got a dozen people show up,” Giroux responded. “It is not like it used to be. Whatever the things we need to do to kind of instill that back into the community, it is important to figure out what those things are and try to work on that as well.”

Maranacook football coach Jordan DeMillo was also in attendance to explain eight-man football — and what the change was like for him — to the audience.

“I will tell you the transition is not as difficult as it might seem,” DeMillo said. “The skills are very transferable. I wouldn’t worry too much, if you go eight-man (and then) transferring the skills back to 11. 

“I think eight-man football is fun, I will tell you that much. You can get creative with your coaching staff.”

Frey said whatever option Spruce chooses, it has to be about the athletes.

“Whatever is best for the program and the kids,” Frey said. “I mean, I am not going to lie. I am an 11-man guy, but we’re going to have to do for the kids’ sake.”


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