Count Thornton Academy among the schools who plan to vote against a controversial plan to reduce Class A football from 14 to eight teams next fall.

“We are not in favor of cutting back on the number of teams in Class A,” said Thornton’s Gary Stevens, athletic director of Maine’s largest high school. “We feel a more robust Class A creates more competitive teams in the division, regardless of how currently strong the program is. It creates more tiering options.”

The proposed football reclassification – which includes the historic inclusion of 10 programs shifting to eight-man football – will be voted on Thursday at the Maine Principals’ Association general membership meeting. The meeting begins at 8 a.m. at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.

Under the plan, longtime Class A programs Portland, Deering, South Portland, Massabesic, Windham and Cheverus would drop to Class B, which would expand from 17 to 22 teams. Class B would be divided into north and south divisions for schools with enrollments between 600-949.

Class A would no longer have geographic divisions. It would consist of Thornton Academy (1,476 students), Lewiston (1,420), Bangor (1,202), Bonny Eagle (1,094), Oxford Hills/Buckfield (1,063), Edward Little (998), Sanford (982) and Scarborough (973).

“Programs like Bangor, which is trying to get back on its feet, how does this help them?” Stevens asked. “Or Lewiston, that’s trying to reestablish itself, how does this help them?”

Or, as Sanford Athletic Director Gordie Salls put it when the eight-team Class A was proposed earlier this month: “I don’t think it’s good for Sanford or football in the state. I don’t want to be critical because a lot of people put in a lot of work on this, but if you want competitive schedules you need more teams, not less teams.”

Underlying much of the unrest is the growing chasm between the most powerful teams in the state and every other team.

Thornton, Bonny Eagle and Scarborough have combined to win the last seven Class A titles. In the past three years, those teams were a combined 60-1 when not playing each other. Few of those games were even close.

The plan for eight Class A teams was approved unanimously on April 8 by both the MPA’s Football and Classification committees. Earlier this year, proposals from those committees had Class A expanding to 18 – and, later – 16 teams. The change in plans came after three schools appealed their placement in Class A and two others appealed being moved up from Class C to B.

The move of Portland and Deering to Class B has provoked ire on social media. In the case of Portland, people question why a team that has won three of the last four Class A North titles needs to move down.

Both schools are considered to have less than 950 students because the MPA decided to change how it counts the enrollment of Portland’s Casco Bay High, whose students can play sports at either Portland or Deering. Previously, Casco Bay’s enrollment was halved, with roughly 185-200 students added to both Portland and Deering’s enrollment figures. Going forward, Casco Bay will be treated as a co-operative school, meaning enrollment is based on how many students are actually playing a sport. With that change, Deering went from 1,086 to 932 students and Portland from 970 to 776.

“I think it’s unfair to even the Class B schools,” Oxford Hills football coach Mark Soehren told the Lewiston Sun Journal. “That’s just an outrageous thing when we’re trying to build equity in Maine, when we’re going to eight-man, which I think is great, that they would move those teams down (and) that the biggest city in the state of Maine has three Class B football schools.”

Classification for football and basketball will be handled with separate votes at Thursday’s meeting, said Mike Burnham, the MPA’s assistant executive director. All other sports will be voted on as one proposal.

Proposals need a majority vote to pass. All schools are eligible to vote on each proposal, whether or not they offer football. Burnham said if a proposal fails to pass, it is possible an alternative proposal could be offered and then voted on.

“Will it get approved? Honest to God, I don’t know,” said Biddeford Coach Brian Curit, whose team has played in Class B since 2015. “If you’ve followed this saga, it’s been one where they’ve been all over the place. Heck, the very first proposal, we were in Class A and there were something like 22 teams. They were going to go three classes. Then it went back to four classes. Then, my goodness, it seemed like if (schools) bellyached enough, they just moved their class.”

Curit said “with all the unrest and jockeying” over football classification, combined with the introduction of eight-man football, sticking with the status quo might have been “the easiest and most equitable way.”

While Thornton will vote no, Stevens expects the MPA’s general membership will approve the proposal.

Brunswick’s Dan Cooper is one coach excited about the expansion of Class B football.

“It will make things a little tougher, and winning a Class B North or Class B outright title will be a heck of a lot more gratifying with all those A teams in there,” Cooper said. “I think it waters down Class A quite a bit, but Class B is going to be a dogfight with 22 teams.”

NOTES: MPA Executive Director Richard Durost is retiring at the end of June. On Friday, at a professional business meeting that is part of the general-membership conference, his succession plan will be voted on. In his 18 years as executive director, Durost has overseen both the interscholastic and professional divisions of the MPA. The plan is for current assistant executive directors Burnham and Holly Couturier to split the duties. Burnham would be in charge of interscholastic sports and activities, and Couturier would direct the professional division.

Steve Craig – 791-6413

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig


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