Kennebunk High football coach Joe Rafferty says of the revamped Class B: “I don’t know what to think of it, to be honest. I think it looks like one of the most competitive leagues or conferences that I’ve coached in all my years.”

High school football coaches agree that the revamped Class B will be far tougher this fall, with realignment dropping six traditional Class A teams to B.

And some of the coaches from the holdover Class B schools are less than thrilled with the changes.

“I call it A-minus,” said Joe Rafferty, in his 41st season as the Kennebunk High coach. “I don’t know what to think of it, to be honest. I know it’s going to be extremely competitive. I think it looks like one of the most competitive leagues or conferences that I’ve coached in all my years.”

Class B has expanded this fall from 17 to 22 teams, split into North and South. Former Class A programs Portland, Deering, South Portland, Cheverus and Massabesic are now in Class B South, and Windham moves into B North.

The newcomers are no slouches. Windham played in the Class A state championship game just two years ago; Portland played in the Class A title game three of the past four years. Cheverus won back-to-back Class A state titles earlier this decade.

New schedules will compound the challenges for Class B teams. Most of them will have to play a crossover game against one of the remaining eight Class A teams to fill out the big schools’ schedule.

“It’s interesting, as a B coach, it seems like we have an annual problem with Class A that we keep solving by shuffling teams around,” said John Fitzsimmons, coach of the new Falmouth/Greely cooperative team.

Falmouth/Greely got the double whammy of being shifted to B North to balance the regions at 11 teams each.

“In our 16-year history we’ve always been in the South, so this is the first time we’ve ever played in the North,” Fitzsimmons said. “The challenge for us, they’re all new programs for us to play. We’re scrambling to look at some films.”

For much of the offseason, as football classification worked its way through various Maine Principals’ Association committees, it looked like Class A was actually going to expand, from 14 teams to 16 or perhaps 18. But when Massabesic and former Class B programs Noble and Gorham appealed their placement in Class A, it created a ripple effect. Class A shrank to the eight largest schools, while Class B ballooned.

Rafferty, the Kennebunk coach, has plenty of perspective about playing against schools with larger enrollments. For the first 24 years of his career, Kennebunk was in Class B, winning a state title in 1991. Kennebunk shifted to Class A in 2003 after joining the SMAA. After 10 mostly rough seasons in Class A, the Rams returned to Class B in 2013 and promptly went to the state championship game.

Since then, Kennebunk has competed with Marshwood for supremacy in Class B South.

Brunswick has been the dominant team in B North the past five seasons, winning four regional titles and the 2016 state championship. Dragons Coach Dan Cooper said the addition of Windham and Falmouth/Greely definitely will strengthen B North.

“But Class B South, holy cow, that’s a real juggernaut down there,” Cooper said.

Coaches at the former Class A programs are making it a point to tell players they shouldn’t expect the competition to be less just because they are in a lower enrollment class.

Cheverus football coach Mike Vance says the new-look Class B “feels like going back to the future. Minus Thornton and Sanford, it feels like Class A from 20 years ago to me, at least down here in southern Maine. We haven’t played Biddeford in a long time, and we’ve got the Portland schools and South Portland and Westbrook again.”

“There are some really good programs in this league,” said Cheverus Coach Mike Vance, “and our kids and our fans are going to find that out.”

Vance said in some ways the new-look Class B “feels like going back to the future. Minus Thornton and Sanford it feels like Class A from 20 years ago to me, at least down here in southern Maine. We haven’t played Biddeford in a long time, and we’ve got the Portland schools and South Portland and Westbrook again.”

Windham Coach Matt Perkins agreed.

“When we started in 2003, we played most of these teams. The Lawrences, Mt. Blues and Messalonskees were all in Class A,” Perkins said. “We open at Gardiner, and that’s a tough place to play.”

Windham went 0-8 in 2018 after reaching the Class A final in 2017. The Eagles didn’t request a change, but when the enrollment cutoff was established at 950 students, they were put into Class B North.

Perkins said his player were “more confused” than anything about the classification change.

“It was almost like a ‘Why?’ Why are we in B? Is it because we didn’t do well last year? How does it happen?” Perkins said.

In Class B South, Marshwood still stands as the team to beat. The Hawks, also a former Class A team, have won four of the past five state championships and are 69-12 in Coach Alex Rotsko’s seven-year tenure. Marshwood will play a crossover game at Class A champion Thornton Academy on Sept. 14. Other than that game, Rotsko figures that for all the changes, the strength of Marshwood’s schedule is about the same.

“Deering and Portland, that’s new for us, but we lost Falmouth, and Greely for that matter, two teams that were pretty good,” Rotsko said. “I’m not sure how much stronger (the Portland schools) are, if at all.”

“The nice thing about it is, it’s fun to play opponents we haven’t played before. To prepare for different opponents makes it more fun and interesting,” Rotsko said.

Rotsko is among the few coaches who think the new classification system is better for football in Maine. He felt it would have been unfair for Noble and Gorham, two programs showing improvement in Class B, to move to Class A. Also, Rotsko noted, some of the new Class B teams struggled in Class A, both in terms of wins and participation numbers.

“Everyone thinks it’s not (good), but I’m not so sure it isn’t a good thing,” Rotsko said. “Do I think it’s better for football overall? Yeah, I do.”

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