Staff Writer

ROCKPORT — Maine high school football will add a fifth class this fall, a move designed to help schools that have been struggling to maintain the sport.

The proposal to add the open-enrollment Class E passed overwhelmingly with a show of hands Thursday at the annual Maine Principals’ Association’s interscholastic business meeting at the Samoset Resort.

Six schools will play in Class E, but unlike those in the other four classes, won’t compete for a state championship.

Between 2012 and 2016, five schools dropped varsity football after being unable to remain competitive. Lopsided losses became the norm. In many cases, small roster sizes heightened concerns about player safety. All five schools continued to field teams at the club or junior varsity level.

Class E will feature four schools that dropped varsity football during that span: Boothbay, Camden Hills, Sacopee Valley and Telstar. They will be joined by two schools that played last season in Class D, the smallest enrollment class: Traip Academy, which had a 2-5 record, and Maranacook, which was 0-7.

“Our enrollment is now under 200 and we were scrambling to find games as a club (team),” said Dan Welch, the Boothbay principal. “As a club, we were not under the auspices of the MPA. Personally, as a school administrator, I’m very grateful that class will exist.”

Camden Hills has an enrollment of 667 students, but three games into the 2015 season canceled the remainder of its varsity schedule because the roster had become too small.

In its final game, Camden Hills dressed 22 players and had eight leave the game with injuries.

Camden Hills was a Class B school when it began playing football in 2009, switched to Class C for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, then finished in Class D, going a combined 6-45 overall.

When the Class E proposal came out of the football committee in early March, Camden Hills Athletic Director Steve Alex was noncommittal about joining the league. He said Thursday the Windjammers will play an eight-game Class E schedule this fall, with home-and-away games against Boothbay, Sacopee Valley, Traip and Maranacook.

“For us, where we’ve been with the low numbers (of players), we’re going to play teams that I think are almost identical matchups,” Alex said. “The competitive games will be good for both teams and I also like the fact – and I think the kids are going to enjoy it – that standings will be kept.”

If a Class E team plays an opponent from another class, the game will be counted for playoff purposes for schools in the higher classes.

Starting this fall, the MPA will use Heal point standings to determine football playoff qualification instead of the Crabtree standings.

The change was made to account for the anticipated increase in cross-class games with the addition of Class E. The Heal points have a sliding scale for the value of a win based on an opponent’s classification. The Crabtree standings are based solely on an opponents’ winning percentage.

The enrollment breakdowns for football also reduced the range for Class B from 586-844 students to the new standard of 650-844. Class C is now 470-649.

That resulted in reclassification for several southern Maine schools. York, Leavitt and Morse will move from Class B to Class C; and defending state champion Wells, Mountain Valley, Poland and Spruce Mountain will shift from Class C to Class D.

Class A remains for schools with 845 or more students with the same 14 schools (including Cheverus, which has petitioned to play up).

Other significant changes that passed Thursday were the addition of a third class for volleyball and lacrosse.

Volleyball had grown from 25 to 35 varsity teams the past two seasons and added at least one new team each year from 2011 to 2016.

Lacrosse, which became an MPA sport in 1998, saw rapid growth in its first 12 years before stabilizing for a couple seasons. Since 2011, the sport has added five girls’ and two boys’ teams.

Adding a third class, especially in lacrosse, will lessen the competitive disparity between strong, established programs and some of the newer teams.

Volleyball will continue to hold statewide tournaments. Class A will be for schools with 750 or more students, Class B will be for schools between 425 and 749, and Class C will be for schools with 424 or fewer students.

Lacrosse’s old break between Class A and B was 750 students. Now, Class A will be for schools with 800 or more students. Class B will be 600-799, and Class C will be less than 600.

Class B and Class C will be statewide divisions without regional playoffs. Class A will continue to be divided into a North and South region.

The other primary change that passed at the meeting was how co-operative team enrollments will be counted.

Currently, all schools’ enrollments in a co-operative are added together for purposes of classification. Starting this fall, the total enrollment of the host school will be counted. Any other schools, referred to as sending schools, will have a percentage of their student enrollment counted that is equal to the percentage of athletes the school provides to the varsity roster.

It also was announced that Mike Bisson has been hired as an MPA assistant executive director to replace Gerry Durgin, who is retiring after six years with the MPA.

Bisson is the athletic director and an assistant principal at Hampden Academy.

Durgin, who lives in Gorham, has spent 46 years working in high school athletics, the first 40 as an athletic director at Telstar, Fryeburg Academy and Gorham.

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