The news that Boothbay Region High School won’t field a varsity football team this season shocked rival coaches and had Campbell Conference officials and school administrators scrambling to revise the regular season schedule and playoff format with the season rapidly approaching.

Boothbay coaches and administrators told their players late last week that they would be playing football as a club sport this season. The Seahawks started the preseason with 30 players on their roster, but due to a lack of experienced players and for their safety, school officials decided to sit out the Class D West race this year.

The regular season opens Sept. 2.

Boothbay had entered into a cooperative agreement with Wiscasset High School in hopes of adding numbers into the program, but no Wiscasset students joined the team. Coach Bryan Dionne told the Boothbay Register about nine players from last year’s team — which finished 2-6 — decided not to play this year.

Boothbay is the third team in Class D South to drop from the varsity ranks in the last three years, joining Sacopee Valley and Telstar. Unlike those two programs, which had started or reinstated dormant programs within the last decade, Boothbay’s football tradition dates back to the 1950s. It includes five state titles (three in Class D, two in Class C) and four Campbell Conference Class C titles, which it won between 1998 and 2007. The Seahawks won back-to-back Class C state titles in 2001-02.

“They have tremendous history, in Class C and D,” Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette. “But if this is the best thing for the program than we all will support them. Hopefully, they will be back someday.”

The loss of Boothbay drops the Campbell Conference/Class D South to eight teams. This year, the conference added fledgling Medomak Valley, which is ineligible for the playoffs. With the odd number of teams, each team had a bye week built into the original eight-game schedule.

On Monday, the conference decided to keep the bye week and play a seven-game schedule. In some weeks, more than one team will have a bye.

The playoff format was also reduced from eight teams to six, with the top two teams getting a bye to the semifinals.

Coaches had mixed opinions about the new schedule. Some had already filled their bye weeks with scrimmages against other teams, including developmental teams, and those are unlikely to be canceled.

“We were hoping we’d get to play every team once and then play maybe our rival two times so we could get eight countable games,” Winthrop/Monmouth coach Dave St. Hilaire said. “The big thing is to make sure we have a good plan for the bye week.”

But the schedule still may have to be tweaked. Under the original schedule, Old Orchard Beach had a bye in the opener and Boothbay in week two. If the format remains, the Seagulls wouldn’t open their season until Sept. 16 against Traip Academy. Traip’s week one opponent was Boothbay. Winthrop/Monmouth was supposed to play Boothbay the final week of the regular season, two weeks after its scheduled bye week. The Ramblers are considered one the favorites in the conference, so if it draws a first-round bye in the playoffs, it could be off back-to-back weeks and three out of four.

Teams have also had to alter their preseason plans. Maranacook was scheduled to play Boothbay in a scrimmage on Friday. Instead, it will play in a three-way scrimmage with Winthrop/Monmouth and Medomak Valley, with each team playing one half against the other two.

Prior to the conference’s decision to switch to a seven-game season, first-year Maranacook coach Bill Getty said he didn’t want any more gaps or bye weeks in the schedule.

“I really don’t have a preference. My approach is you guys get it figured out and we’ll play who you tell us to play,” Getty said.

Boothbay will be able to apply for reinstatement to varsity competition next year, according to Maine Principals’ Association assistant executive director Mike Burnham.

“There’s no penalty because Boothbay made the decision prior to the start of the season,” Burnham said.

Last year, Camden Hills forfeited its final five games in Class D North last season and, by MPA rule, is ineligible for varsity football competition for two years.

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Gardiner has made a change to its offense, moving senior Eli Kropp, a two-year starter at quarterback, to wide receiver and installing junior Cole Heberlin behind center.

Coach Joe White said he has installed a new offense for the Tigers and went debated who would be the starting quarterback over the summer before settling on Heberlin at the start of practice.

“We’ve got a little bit different style of offense,” he said. “It’s a fairly basic Wing-T, kind of old school Gardiner football, and we made a couple of personnel move to get our best athletes on the field.”

“Cole is a great athlete, and Eli, while he’s a two-year starter, is an athlete who can catch and jump and run,” he added. “When I talked with Eli about it, he said ‘Whatever I can do to help the team.'”

The 6-foot-2 Kropp gives Heberlin a big target in the passing game. He’ll have several other athletic options and some help on the offensive line with the addition of several key members of the hockey program, including Kennebec Journal Hockey Player of the Year Michael Poirier, a senior, and sophomore Tanner Hebert.

Last winter, Poirier, who will play offensive tackle, Hebert, who will play several skill positions and return kicks, and returning senior tight end Hunter Russell helped lead the Tigers to a 15-5-1 and the Class B South final. The hope is some of that success can rub off on the gridiron, White said.

“The hockey players are helping our attitude,” he said. “You’ve got guys that are coming in and can share a winning perspective with these upperclassmen that haven’t had a lot of success the last three years.”

• • •

There will be several new faces, some old faces in new places, and some familiar faces returning to local sidelines in assistant coaching roles.

Gardiner has added 2012 Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Jordan Hersom to the coaching staff. Hersom starred at quarterback and safety at Leavitt Area High School before playing collegiately at Springfield College and Husson University. He is the son of Dirigo coach Jim Hersom and nephew of Lawrence coach John Hersom. His grandfather, Lawrence “Doc” Hersom, coached at Edward Little. Jordan will coach the quarterbacks and defensive backs and Gardiner’s freshman team. Tyler Salley also joins the staff as a volunteer.

Former Gardiner assistant Gary Goodheart is now at Oak Hill, joining head coach Stacen Doucette and the three-time defending Class D champions. He will coach the wide receivers and defensive backs. Chad Stowell has also returned after a couple of years away and will coach the defensive ends and offensive skill positions.

Winthrop/Monmouth coach Dave St. Hilaire added Jon Laverdiere (running backs/defensive backs) and Al McPherson (linebackers, receivers). Bill Getty, now the head coach at Maranacook after serving two years as defensive coordinator, has added Rick Morand, Chris Davis and Korey Laliberte to his staff.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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