Jyrrmal Yates of Mountain Valley High School clears Camden Hills defenders during a September 2023 game in Rumford. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

READFIELD — Eight-man high school football in Maine is poised for one of its biggest shakeups since the division’s 2019 inception, with four programs targeting a return to the traditional 11-man ranks. 

Area teams Mountain Valley and Dirigo are set to return to 11-man this fall. So, too, are Maranacook, one of the 10 original teams from eight-man’s inaugural season, and Brunswick.

“Eight-man exists to get your numbers back up and have some success, and hopefully, you can get your numbers back to 11-man football,” said Maranacook head coach Skip Bessey. “Now, you have some schools ready to make that jump back, and it’s happening.”

The departures, which Maine Principals Association Football Committee member Joel Stoneton said are finalized, mark the biggest movement at one time in the eight-man ranks. Previously, Cheverus High in Portland was the only eight-man program to return to the 11-man game. The Stags did so in 2022, a year after it rolled to an unblemished season and the Large School championship.

Maranacook and Dirigo competed in the eight-man Small School class last season. Mountain Valley and Brunswick, meanwhile, competed in the Large School division. Brunswick made its eight-man debut last fall, going 6-4 and reaching the Large School South title game under first year-head coach Mark Renna.

Brunswick’s move to eight-man in 2023 followed two tough seasons for the program. In 2021, Brunswick canceled its season after four games in the wake of a hazing investigation. The following season, the Dragons had low participation numbers and finished 0-8. Like Maranacook, Brunswick had one of eight-man football’s biggest rosters this season, regularly dressing 35 players.


“When they made that decision to go to eight-man, that was prior to me getting the job,” Renna said. “If I had came on there earlier, and they had asked me, I would have said, ‘no, let’s stay in 11-man football with 35 kids,’ but they’d already made (the move), so we played eight-man. Now, we have the numbers again, and we should be set there for a while.”

Stoneton, who is currently the athletic director at Winthrop, said schools looking to switch divisions must first gain approval from the MPA. Once its received a formal request, the MPA Football Committee can sign off on the move. Stoneton added that, per MPA policy, schools are assigned to their original class. Schools then have the option to petition up or down.

“When we first talked about eight-man football, the end result was to allow teams to come back to 11-man football by generating some interest,” Stoneton said. “To me, this is a pivotal point in the state of Maine’s football history because you’re seeing where eight-man football saved these program and brought them back to 11-man.”

Trevor Gerrish of Brunswick tries to get around Sam Bradford of Yarmouth/North Yarmouth during an eight-man Large School playoff game last fall. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

An eight-man football staple, Maranacook has been one of the top programs in the class since 2019. The Black Bears went 26-11 in four seasons of eight-man play, including a 9-1 season in 2019 and a Small School South championship in 2021.

During that time, Maranacook continued to grow, and now, it could have a roster as large as 45-50 players next season after fielding 42 in 2023, coach Skip Bessey said. Anticipating an uptick in participation numbers, Bessey pitched a move to 11-man. On Tuesday, Maranacook Athletic Director Brant Remington confirmed the program is on the move again.

“We talked about it, and the conversation was that we had 45-50 guys with a good mix of experience and inexperience and that we’d have the bodies to do it,” Remington said. “The MPA allows movement on a yearly basis now in football, so if we do it this year and find it wasn’t the right move, we could change back if we needed to.”


Another selling point of a jump to 11-man for Maranacook was the chance to play in Class D South next year. That would put the Black Bears in a region with teams such as Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale, Oak Hill and Lisbon, resulting in shorter travel times and matchups with fellow Mountain Valley Conference foes.

It’s a development, Bessey said, that could have a domino effect. The departures of Maranacook and Dirigo leave six teams in the region: Old Orchard Beach, Mount View, Boothbay, Sacopee Valley, Telstar and Traip Academy. The gap between the two-time reigning champ Seagulls and the rest of the region, he said, now looks even bigger.

“I was talking to another coach, and he made the point of, ‘well, what’s Old Orchard going to do? They’re going to look kind of silly with you and Dirigo pulling out,’” Bessey said. “I think it would almost force teams like that and maybe some of the eight-man Large teams to say, ‘Wait a minute, we have to make that move to 11-man now.’”

Maranacook’s Owen Dunn and teammates celebrate after scoring a touchdown against Old Orchard Beach during a n Oct. 6, 2023, game in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Renna said he is unsure whether Brunswick will play in either Class B or C. The Dragons historically have been in Class B, where it won its first state championship in 53 years in 2016. Wherever the Dragons end up, though, he thinks a roster that includes 35 returning players and nine incoming freshmen is one that belongs in the 11-man game.

“There’s mixed emotions; we went to the regional final last year, so there’s some people thinking, ‘why don’t we stay (in eight-man) and make a playoff push?’” Renna said. “From my perspective, though, it’s about challenging your players, and if you can play 11-man football, you should.”

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