WATERVILLE — The Waterville Board of Education unanimously approved a request Monday night to allow the high school to begin playing eight-man football in the fall.

The 7-0 vote came more than two hours into the meeting, when Athletic Director Heidi Bernier explained the reasons for the move. She said a decreasing number of players over the past few years has raised concern about athletes’ safety and the team’s ability to be competitive.

The Maine Principals’ Association in April 2019 approved eight-man football at its general membership meeting. It was played in 18 states in 2017, but was not sponsored by the MPA until last year.

Waterville Senior High School and Mount View High School in Thorndike are among a group of schools looking to make the move this fall to eight-man football. Others considering it include Dirigo, Mount Desert Island, Spruce Mountain and Camden Hills.

Last fall, 10 teams took part in the inaugural season of eight-man football, divided into two divisions based on school size.

Eight-man football is played with eight instead of 11 offensive and defensive players on each side. It is typically played by high schools that have smaller enrollments. The switch to eight players is gaining popularity around the country.

Bernier said discussions on the need for WSHS to consider eight-man football began after the MPA provided tentative classification breakdown of football showing Waterville in Class B. The original classification proposal had Waterville playing against some strong Class B schools, according to Bernier. The MPA then provided a second classification proposal that classified the school back down to Class C and it was approved for the 2019 season.

Playing eight-man football will allow WSHS to compete with a smaller roster while creating more depth and providing substitutes throughout a game to help the team remain healthy and fresh, according to Bernier.

Now that the school board has approved the move to eight-man, the MPA must still endorse Waterville, and any other school seeking to drop down from 11-man football, before the change is official.

In 2012, Bernier said, WSHS had 48 football players. In 2019, that number was down to 26. And the number of players at the high school and junior high school are continuing to decline, she said.

At a meeting last week attended by about 20 players, parents and others, a vote was taken and most supported the idea of playing eight-man football.

Board member Julian Payne said he had received no emails for or against the request.

“I haven’t heard anything against it,” he said.

Board member Maryanne Bernier voted to approve the request and member Pam Trinward seconded the motion before the unanimous vote.

Patricia Helm takes the oath of office Monday night from Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois during the Waterville Board of Education meeting. The board elected Helm to the Ward 1 seat vacated by Sara Sylvester, who resigned last month because she moved out of the ward. Sylvester was chairwoman of the board, a position Joan Phillips-Sandy now holds.

In other matters, the board unanimously elected Patricia Helm to the Ward 1 seat vacated by Sara Sylvester, who resigned last month because she moved out of the ward. Sylvester was chairwoman of the board, a position Joan Phillips-Sandy now holds.

Under questioning by board members, Helm said she has lived in Waterville since 1988, her children attended Waterville schools and she has had plenty of experience with teachers in the school system and knows many people in the community. She said she wants to do her part to make sure every student in Waterville becomes a contributing member of society.

Helm is a former secondary music teacher who taught piano lessons most of her life and taught music theory at the college level, she said. Payne said he read Helm’s resume and was impressed.

“To me, music is one of the most important things schools offer,” he said. “It brings a lot of people into the community.”

Payne asked Helm if she would be able to work respectfully with people of differing opinions.

She replied: “Oh, very much so. I really enjoy discussing matters. I think that’s the way we learn and the way we move forward.”

 

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