It started, as many things do, with dissension.
“Unrest comes in, and something happens,” Wally LaFountain said.
Just over 50 years ago, that something was the Pine Tree Conference. Then head football coach at Winslow High School, LaFountain, unhappy with the treatment of small schools by large schools in the Kennebec Valley Conference, joined forces with Lawrence High football coach Dick McGee and created the Pine Tree Conference.
“The little schools outnumbered the big schools, but the big schools controlled the league,” LaFountain said. “I got together with Dick McGee and said, let’s find nine schools that want to play each other.”
For slightly more than half a century, the Pine Tree Conference has been home to many of central Maine’s high school football teams. Now, with schools from the historic league scattered across three classes and two regions, the old Pine Tree Conference is enjoying a renaissance.
Five old PTC teams will play in a regional championship game this week. In Eastern A, Cony of Augusta will take on Lawrence. In Eastern B, Waterville will play Mt. Blue of Farmington. Winslow will host the Western C title game.
“I’m friends with coaches on those staffs. It’s good to see central Maine football pretty healthy right now,” Waterville head coach Frank Knight said.
The success of the old rivals is a source of pride for many who have been involved with the league for years.
“We were talking about the possibility of three old PTC teams playing in the state championships,” said Lawrence assistant coach Dan Dangler, who played for the Bulldogs in the 1970s. “It’s just incredible.”
Added Mt. Blue head coach Gary Parlin: “It’s pretty cool. I wish we’d get back to regionalized football again.”
The old PTC was chock full of rivalries, and one of the biggest was the feud between Winslow and Lawrence.
“We had bigger crowds than you see now. Winslow was our main rival,” Lawrence assistant coach Mike Mealey, who like Dangler, played football for the Bulldogs, said.
The rivalry got so intense that when Dangler was a player, head coach Pete Cooper played “Anchors Aweigh,” in the Lawrence locker room the entire week the team prepared to play the Black Raiders. “Anchors Aweigh” is the tune of Winslow’s fight song, so by the time the Bulldogs took the field, they took their hatred for the song out on the Black Raiders.
“Come fall, it was an exciting time of year,” Dangler said. “The community just bubbled over with excitement.”
Keyes Fiber, the precursor to Huhtamaki, the packaging manufacturer that straddles the Waterville-Fairfield line, had a riding sweeper used for cleaning up the plant. If Lawrence won the annual game against Winslow, Mealey said, the sweeper was painted blue and gray. If Winslow won, the sweeper was painted orange and black. It would stay those colors until the next season’s game.
When Winslow moved from Class A to Class B, and Waterville became Lawrence’s chief rival, the Panthers’ purple and white became an option for the sweeper.
Winslow broke away from the PTC in 1990, dropping to Class B and the Little Ten Conference. Old rivalries with Lawrence and Waterville quickly were replaced by Orono, then Belfast. Rivalries tend to come when two teams are closely competitive, regardless of geography, Winslow head coach Mike Siviski said.
“For a while, Belfast was as intense as you can get, and they’re 40 miles away,” Siviski said.
Some of these old rivalries may be coming back. Next spring, the members of the Maine Principals’ Association are expected to vote on a proposal to expand Maine high school football from three classes to four. If this proposal passes, Mt. Blue and Lawrence will likely be reunited in Eastern B. Winslow and Waterville would play each other once again in Eastern C.
“My fondest memories of coaching are against Winslow and Lawrence and Skowhegan,” Parlin said.
For now, however, the old PTC teams still alive in the Maine high school football playoffs are focused on this weekend’s regional championship games, not the past or the future.
“I don’t get sentimental about it. I’m too focused on what we have to do here this week,” Knight said. “Maybe after the season, I’ll look back and think it’s pretty special.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242