Ask longtime Winslow High School football coach Mike Siviski who his team’s biggest rival has been over the three and a half decades he’s led the Black Raiders, and you will not get a short answer.

There was Lawrence and Waterville, then Messalonskee and Orono. For a decade, there was Belfast. Now, it’s Waterville and Lawrence again, with maybe Maine Central Institute in the mix.

Waterville and Winslow play their Battle of the Bridge Saturday afternoon. Once, Maine high school football rivalries were built on geography. You looked at your nearest neighbor, and that was your mortal football enemy. In recent years, with the addition of first a fourth, and now a fifth, class to the Maine high school football landscape, proximity has given way to a new rivalry standard of competitive balance.

“Rivalries are made because of two teams that are after the same thing,” Siviski said. “As we jumped around, our rivals have changed.”

There are still old fashioned regional rivalries in the state. Here in central Maine, Cony and Gardiner maintain a passionate rivalry. Portland and Deering still meet each Thanksgiving, although there has been talk of ending that tradition. Lewiston versus Edward Little is strong. Across the state, though, more rivalries are growing from competitive balance. With some teams changing conferences every few years, that’s not likely to change.

Winslow, for example, has played in five leagues since 1990. Madison hopped from Class C South to Class B North to Class C North to its current home in Class D South over the course of a decade. Each move brought new opponents. Just when the Bulldogs were starting to build rivalries with teams like Foxcroft Academy, Winslow, and Mt. Desert Island, those opponents were off the schedule. Now, Madison sees potential rivalries with Wells, Spruce Mountain, and Mountain Valley.

“Coaches, we love rivalries, but we love continuity more than anything,” Madison coach Scott Franzose said. “Coach Roche (Wells coach Tim Roche) and I were talking about it. A lot of it starts with the competition.”

When Franzose played for Madison in the mid-1980s, one of the big rivals was Messalonskee, which grew and moved up in class soon after. Jay, which merged with Livermore Falls to form Spruce Mountain in 2011, also was a rival to the Bulldogs, Franzose said.

Winslow’s rivalries with Orono and Belfast were early examples of rivalries built on competition rather than proximity. When the Black Raiders first joined Class B North in 1991, Orono was one of Winslow’s biggest challengers for the regional title. Within a few years, it was Belfast. Starting in 1992 and going through 2006, either Winslow or Belfast won 12 of the 15 Class B North titles.

The Lawrence football team storms on to Keyes Field in Fairfield prior to a game last season gainst rival Winslow. Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“Obviously when you have a couple winning teams, you’re going to have a natural rivalry,” Siviski said.

MCI is another team that switched leagues, moving up from the Class D Little Ten Conference last season to the Class C Big 11. The Huskies won the Class C state championship in their first season in Class C. By default, that sort of makes MCI the team everyone looks at as a rival. The Huskies have that new gold ball in the trophy case, and the target the comes with it.

“It’s a little early for us,” to have developed strong rivals in the new league, MCI coach Tom Bertrand said. When Bertrand played for MCI in the late 1980s, the Huskies looked forward to playing Dexter, it’s closest rival in the LTC. Now, that grudge match opponent could become Nokomis, one exit up Interstate 95 from MCI’s Pittsfield campus, in Newport. Nokomis and MCI met twice last season, including an MCI win in the first round of the playoffs. They’ll meet again in the final week of the regular season.

“We have a natural rivalry with Nokomis. I know they’re hungry for us,” Bertrand said.

The advent of cross-class scheduling last season allowed for the return of some classic rivalries. In central Maine, that meant to return of the Lawrence-Winslow game after 27 years of hibernation.

“We heard from multiple former players in that week. Our players were excited to play Winslow,” Lawrence coach John Hersom said.

When Waterville dropped from Class A to Class B in 2005, Messalonskee replaced the Purple Panthers as Lawrence’s regular season finale rival. That led to two consecutive seasons, 2011 and 2012, in which the Bulldogs and Eagles played in back-to-back weeks, the regular season finale, and the first round of the playoffs.

Hersom called Lawrence’s current rivalry with Skowhegan one his team looks forward to. The teams met in the conference final last season, with Skowhegan winning to move on to the Class B state game. Despite being just 18 miles apart, a scheduling quirk kept Skowhegan and Lawrence from playing each other in either 2013 or 2014. Neither community was happy with the situation.

“I know our kids really look forward to playing Skowhegan. I’m not exactly sure why Skowhegan was rotated off,” Hersom said.

Like Winslow, Lawrence found a fierce rival born our of competitive balance, in Bangor. Either Lawrence or Bangor won the Pine Tree Conference Class A title in six of the season seasons between 2006 and 2012. They met in the conference championship game three times, with Lawrence winning each time. Now that they are in different leagues, Lawrence and Bangor’s rivalry has faded away.

“We had some good games with Bangor,” Hersom said. “Those memories don’t fade easily.”

In the end, those sharp memories are what make a rivalry stronger.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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