ANSON — Ever since taking over as Carrabec High School’s athletic director two years ago, the matter of changing conferences wasn’t one of “If” for Erik Carey, but one of “When.”

It’s been 38 years since Carrabec, drawing students from the Somerset County towns of Anson, Embden, New Portland and Solon, became a member of the Mountain Valley Conference. Yet since taking over his post in 2021, Carey has always known a move was on the horizon — and the time for that move has come.

Carrabec has left the MVC and will join the East/West Conference starting with the 2023-24 high school sports season. The move follows the departures of two other ex-MVC members as well as recent developments that will add flexibility for the school in its new conference.

“We’ve been looking at this for a little while, but it just didn’t seem like the right time yet,” Carey said. “We took a look at what we had coming through with our feeder programs, the competitiveness of the Mountain Valley Conference and a few other factors, and now, that timing was right.”

Since joining the MVC in 1985, Carrabec has consistently been one of the conference’s smallest members. The school had 183 students in 2022-23 but has usually had enrollments closer to the 160 range, putting it on par with Boothbay, Telstar and Wiscasset at the bottom of the league.

Still, Carrabec has managed to field teams, even in sports such as soccer that require somewhat larger roster sizes. Although failures to field soccer teams at East/West schools such as Forest Hills, Rangeley and Valley has deterred the Cobras from making the jump, the impending arrival of eight-man soccer changes everything.


“Before, we had no choice, really, to stay in the Mountain Valley Conference because of soccer,” Carey said. “You just wouldn’t get a full schedule or even a half-schedule in the East/West Conference for soccer, but eight-person gave schools like Valley and Rangeley and a few of those other schools to go, ‘Oh, we can do it because we only need eight.’ That opened a door for us.”

Changes in MVC membership also precipitated the move. In March, it was announced that local powerhouse Maranacook would join the conference at the end of the 2022-23 school year. Then, at a league athletic directors’ meeting, the announcement that Buckfield and Wiscasset were leaving the MVC for the East/West gave Carey the final impetus to make the jump.

“I honestly thought we would go one more year (in the MVC) — and I’m not going to say I was blindsided because everyone does their own thing — but I’m going, ‘Those are the teams we compete with the most,’ Carey said. “Once I heard that, we got the process started, and we applied to join the East/West Conference and were approved as a probationary member for one year.”

The MVC’s recent decision to play regular season games against out-of-conference teams, Carey said, was also a factor. Even as it departs for another conference, Carrabec will be able to keep contests against rival Madison as well as those against schools of similar sizes such as Boothbay and Telstar.

Carrabec’s Karen Baker, left, and Oak Hill’s Carlee Austin battle for the ball during a Sept. 30, 2022 girls soccer match in Wales. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Yet the realignment, though certainly the East/West’s gain, is still the MVC’s loss. The departures of three schools is a frustrating development for Winthrop Athletic Director and MVC President Joel Stoneton, who thinks the recent addition of non-conference games, though well-intended, has proved problematic.

“It’s no ill will toward Carrabec, Wiscasset or Buckfield — they need to do what makes them competitive — but it’s wicked frustrating,” Stoneton said. “We felt like we were really trying to make things work. It’s been 10-plus years that I’ve been working to get the conference to play out of the conference, and all it’s done is bite us in the ass.”


Stoneton said he previously reached out to now-former Forest Hills Athletic Director Anthony Amero to discuss a possibility of merging the two conferences. There was preliminary interest in such a merger with both conferences consisting of many small schools in central and western Maine, but it wouldn’t last.

“We would make sure all the D schools play each other twice, and we would have a C and a D just like the larger conferences do with A and B,” Stoneton said. “There was interest, but then there were side conversations I was not aware of, and there was some recruiting of the smaller Mountain Valley Conference schools. Once they decided to move there, they ended conversations with us.”

Carrabec becomes the largest member of the East/West Conference with a projected 2023-24 enrollment of 176, coming in ahead of fellow new members Buckfield (150) and Wiscasset (148). Rounding out the conference are Richmond (138), Rangeley (58), Valley (56), Forest Hills (46), Vinalhaven (41), Islesboro (28) and North Haven (15).

Although travel will always be difficult for the island teams and those near the Canadian border, the new additions give existing East/West schools more options. Carrabec, for example, is a mere 15 miles from Upper Kennebec Valley High School in Bingham, while Richmond is just 12 from Wiscasset.

“When you’re an athletic director at small schools like this, it’s tough to make things work, and it’s not always you have chances to play schools nearby,” Valley Athletic Director Britney Cabassa said. “I think it’s great; it’s a great move for them, and it’s great for our conference.”

Carrabec, meanwhile, goes from being one of the more distant schools in a rural Maine-based conference to one of the more centrally located ones — just another perk afforded by the move to a new conference.

“We go from being right on the fringes of the MVC to being in the middle of our conference,” Carey said. “There’s still a lot of travel, but it’s a bit more manageable, which is nice.”

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