High school coaches in southern Maine were largely encouraged by the decision Thursday to allow Class A football teams to play one game against a New Hampshire opponent.

Nearly all agreed that allowing out-of-state games for the first time in the Maine Principals’ Association era should alleviate a week’s worth of the mismatches that have plagued Class A since it became a statewide eight-team division in 2019. It also gets the Class A schools an extra regular-season game and avoids forcing the best Class B programs to play a third Class A opponent.

“If we can improve football in Maine, that’s the ultimate goal. If this helps to improve football in Maine, I’m all for it,” said Bonny Eagle Coach Kevin Cooper.

And, it might just stoke fan and community interest for a sport that saw participation in Maine drop over 20 percent from 2009 to 2018 – the most recent year of data compiled by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“It will be interesting to see how we stack up against another state. It’s been decades since a team from Maine played outside the state,” said Scarborough Coach Packy Malia. “I’ve always had it in my head that Maine football is better than people give it credit for, and this year we might find out.”

With one less round of playoffs, the Class A teams need a nine-game schedule so that they can start and end the season at the same time as the rest of Maine’s 11-man teams.

Advertisement

Because it took until May to approve the interstate games, finding a willing – and appropriate – New Hampshire opponent could be difficult. The majority of New Hampshire’s 21 Division I teams already have secured a bye-week opponent either from their own ranks, Massachusetts or Vermont.

“It got late with us and, our bye week was Week 2, so I wanted to make sure we had a game,” said Bill Ball, the athletic director and 30-year head coach at Exeter Area High. “We’re going to play Champlain Valley out of Vermont.”

While the interstate games will count toward Maine’s regular-season standings, it is likely New Hampshire will view them as exhibitions that could be used as a tiebreaker. Regardless, New Hampshire teams will take the games seriously, Ball said.

“There’s a lot of value in these games. Especially if you find a really competitive school. We grew a lot when we played (Massachusetts schools) Billerica and Andover,” Ball said.

As of mid-April, nine New Hampshire Division I teams were still looking for an opponent, according to Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens.

One of those was Bedford, a team that went 7-2 last season and has won two Division I titles (2016, 2018) since New Hampshire expanded its top-tier league from nine to 20 teams in 2013. New Hampshire has had seven different Division I champions in the past nine years.

Advertisement

“Bedford is trying to find a competitive fit, if it can work out, to avoid a bye week,” said Corey Parker, the school’s athletic director. “Gary (Stevens) and I have chatted a few times and there could be some formable matchups.”

Parker said it is unclear how many New Hampshire teams still need an opponent. He also stressed any game between New Hampshire and Maine schools “has to be a good fit.”

The football scheduling committee that devised Maine’s new statewide competition-based schedule for all 11-man teams will be in charge of finding the best fits, as opposed to individual schools.

“Our first task will be to make sure the Maine schedule, that matrix of eight games, makes sense,” said Stevens, a member of the scheduling committee. “We will do that first, and then we’ll match up the New Hampshire games.”

Sanford Coach Mike Fallon said playing an out-of-state game could be a good thing “if the end result is some scheduling relief for some Class A schools that may need it. And, it also keeps the class intact.”

Since the conclusion of the 2021 season, there were consistent rumblings that Edward Little, Lewiston and possibly Sanford were considering petitioning to play in Class B.

“If we shrunk below eight teams, that would be pathetic,” Fallon said. “I also hope this doesn’t open Pandora’s box and there’s a push to expand this even more, just to take the Class B teams off the hook. I feel it’s important that Maine high school football remains Maine high school football.”

For Stevens, playing one game against a New Hampshire team is a viable part to reach the overall goal of improved competitive balance in Maine.

“It will create interest. That is a factor. It addresses a need right now. This gives us another tool and resource and opportunity to help fix the problem,” he said.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login 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.