A few days ago, Camden Hills High School administrators cried “Uncle!” and quit on the remainder of the 2015 football season.

Citing a low number of players and injuries, Camden Hills principal Nick Ithomitis released a statement on Thursday, saying the Windjammers were canceling the remainder of the season.

Saturday’s scheduled home game against Ellsworth was scrapped, as was next Friday’s game at Maine Central Institute, and the rest of the Windjammers schedule. Ithomitis’ safety concerns are legitimate. Of the 23 players who dressed for Camden’s game against Bucksport, 12 were freshmen and four were sophomores. That many underclassmen shouldn’t have to play against an experienced team. You can’t learn the game when you’re doing nothing but picking yourself off the turf. You certainly can’t develop a passion for playing.

It’s likely last week’s loss to Bucksport was the final football game in Camden Hills history. The cancellation of the season came over the protests of first-year head coach Thad Chilton and a number of players and parents. It makes you ask this question: How much did Camden Hills support football in the first place?

Camden started playing varsity football in 2009. In 2010, the Windjammers won four games and made the PTC B playoffs. Since then, though, the team has won two games. The team dropped from Class B to Class C, and this year to Class D, in an effort to give the program a boost, but nothing worked. In three games this season, Camden Hills lost 49-12 (to Mount View), 22-14 (to Houlton) and 53-14 (to Bucksport).

If Camden Hills were an isolated incident, you could just shrug your shoulders and move on. But Camden Hills’ football struggles are the latest in a line of similar incidents.

Last season, Telstar High School declined a bid to the Campbell Conference Class D playoffs, and the Rebels are barely hanging on this season, with fewer than 20 players on the roster. A few years ago, Sacopee Valley abruptly gave up its program in the preseason, when it didn’t have enough players to field a team, and the Hawks were done before ever winning a varsity game. Before that, Calais failed to build on the momentum of a few successful early seasons and dropped football.

There are football programs all over the state struggling to maintain participation, some even in worse shape than Camden Hills. For instance, there’s Stearns of Millinocket, a football team with a strong history of winning that goes back decades. Stearns football is chock full of tradition. The problem is, Millinocket is no longer chock full of people, and as enrollment has plummeted at Stearns, the number of football players has, too.

At Falmouth, Yarmouth, Mount View and Nokomis, football has taken hold to varying degrees of on field success. Soccer’s strong foundation at Camden Hills has been called a contributing factor to the school’s football demise, but Falmouth and Yarmouth are traditional soccer hotbeds, too, with enrollments close to Camden’s, and football found a way to coexist with futbol at those schools. Gray-New Gloucester is off to a great start after a few lean years. Houlton and Washington Academy have seen some wins and losses, and it’s still too early to tell which direction each will go. Just down the coast from Camden, first-year varsity program Medomak Valley is 4-0.

If the Maine high school football programs teetering on the brink of folding need inspiration, they can find it in John Bapst of Bangor.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, John Bapst was in the same situation Camden Hills was in this season. Few players, and young players. In 1998, the Crusaders pulled the chute midway through the season. They went winless in 1999 and 2000, too. It took commitment from new head coach Dan O’Connell, as well as the school’s administration, to rebuild the John Bapst football program. By the mid-2000s, the Crusaders were on the rise. In 2008, John Bapst won the Class C state championship.

It took time for John Bapst to rejuvenate its football team. It took a coach and a school willing to put in that time.

The Maine Principals’ Association showed its commitment to football at Camden Hills when it broke a practice of allowing struggling teams to play down one class size, when it allowed the Class B Windjammers to play in Class D. Is Camden Hills willing to put in that time? Does Camden Hills have coaching staff, administration, athletes and families who will make that commitment to football?

As lost games become forfeits and it becomes easier to just let the sport slip away over the next few months we’ll find out.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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