STRONG — As it turns out, 600 pounds worth of potatoes wasn’t nearly enough.

Darren Allen, head coach of the Mt. Abram boys soccer team, thought that amount would be plenty earlier in the week as he prepared for the school to host its annual 7-on-7 tournament. Instead, he knew by the end of the first day that he’d have to make another run.

“We went through half of it the first day, and I couldn’t believe it,” Allen said. “I was like, ‘No way; this is the girls section.’ We usually never go through this many potatoes, but we had to run out and buy more. I think we ended up with around 1,000 (pounds).”

That’s how big Mt. Abram’s Western Mountain Classic, which continued Saturday after Friday’s opening day, has gotten in its 14 years of existence. It’s an event that’s become a can’t-miss date on Maine’s soccer calendar as it brings teams from around the state together more than ever before.

It’s no secret that players and coaches love the Western Mountain Classic. Although it’s a tournament rather than a camp, there’s plenty of the latter going on as teams stay on Mt. Abram campus grounds overnight Friday and Saturday. There’s campers, tents, cornhole boards, tailgates and more going on between the games.

“It’s hard to travel two and a half hours away, but this is worth the trip,” said Mark Ensworth, head coach of the Ellsworth boys team. “It’s beautiful out here. We came up here last year and had a blast. It gives the kids a chance to bond and puts a nice little cap on the summer program.”


This year, 56 teams have descended on Strong, a small town just south of the mountain that gives Mt. Abram High School its name. That’s a 33 percent increase from last year’s 42-team tournament field and is about the maximum, Allen said, that the event can take.

Hall-Dale, left, battles for the ball with Gardiner during the Western Mountain Classic on Friday in Strong. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We decided to expand it this year, and it still filled up in about a month,” Allen said. “There’s some logistics with the extra people creating traffic jams, but seeing all the people here is a real cool thing for a small area where, as you can see, there’s not much here except the school and the playing fields.”

Some of Mt. Abram’s Mountain Valley Conference foes, such as Hall-Dale, Mountain Valley and Oak Hill, are fixtures at the tournament. So, too, are some of its fellow Franklin County schools (Mt. Blue, Buckfield and Rangeley) as well as a few others that aren’t terribly far away (Carrabec and Skowhegan).

Yet the tournament field goes well beyond that. Shead brought its girls teams four hours, traveling from the shores of America’s easternmost city to the western Maine mountains. Sanford and Penobscot Valley also made long trips to Salem. It’s made for some interesting matchups between teams that might otherwise never meet.

“We’ve played some of the teams before, but it’s a good experience to play the ones we don’t normally get to play,” said Hall-Dale’s Marie Benoit, whose team’s path to the championship included games against Winslow, Mt. Blue and Penobscot Valley. “You meet new people from new places and get the chance to make a lot of new friends.”

Gardiner gives up a goal to Hall-Dale in during the Western Mountain Classic on Friday in Strong. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Boys and girls fields are divided into “Premier” and “Championship” brackets with separate champions being crowned in each. Hall-Dale (Premier) and Central (Championship) won the girls crowns Saturday morning with the boys winners set to be crowned early Sunday afternoon.


Camping is one of the best parts of the experience. Sure, it’s common for athletes to go on trips together as part of high school or club sports, but they usually end up in hotels or AirBnBs. In this instance, they’re sleeping in the very fields where they’ll wake up to play the following day.

“I learned my lesson this year and brought a camper,” Ensworth said. “I am not sleeping on the ground like I did last year. … The parents are at AirBnBs — they’re living the life of luxury — but the kids tent up together and pile in. It’s definitely not something they get to do every day.”

It’s an event that transforms Strong and some of the surrounding small communities for three late-July days every year. While there are perhaps more populated, centrally located areas for big soccer gatherings, none can offer the specialized experience the Western Mountain Classic does.

“Our soccer community is a small little world, so even if you don’t play everybody every season, you have friends here and there throughout the state,” said Nate Benoit, filling in for Hall-Dale head coach Mark Tinkham. “It’s something Hall-Dale has made a long tradition out of it, and we look forward to it every year.”

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