CALAIS, Maine — The LTC Class C football ranks will have a different look this fall as the cooperative Calais-Woodland Silverados will not field a team in 2012 after four seasons of varsity competition.

“Several factors play a role in this decision, but our main concerns are the low number of projected participants and interest in the program at this point in time,” said Calais assistant principal Matt Clark. “Low numbers cause a serious concern for the safety of our student-athletes.”

Clark said the team had a high of approximately 40 players during the 2010 preseason, but last year’s squad finished its schedule with just “19 or 20” players.

Silverados coach Ian Pratt added that a couple of players who would have been returning from the 2011 team are moving away from the area, and some others had indicated they might try out for soccer this fall.

“I understand and support the decision,” said Pratt, “but I think it’s really unfortunate for all the people who had put so much time and effort creating this opportunity that had been so long awaited at Calais and Woodland high schools.”

Pratt and Clark both had hoped to get commitments from at least 25 players for the coming season to keep the program alive, but that was not forthcoming, and with no feeder system in place at the youth level there was no certainty of any increase in participation in the near future.

“Numbers-wise we’ve been up and down, we’ve had issues,” said Pratt. “The saddest part of all is that we were young last year but we had 12 or 14 players coming back this fall who would have been the core of a good football team.

“Not having a feeder program of any sort really hurt us.”

Clark said the decision, which was announced to the local football boosters group Tuesday evening, was done at this time to allow the LTC and the Maine Principals’ Association time to adjust to the situation.

And that may mean that RSU 24, the combination of Ellsworth and Sumner of East Sullivan high schools, may replace Calais-Woodland in the LTC and field a varsity squad from the area for the first time since the 1950s, when Ellsworth was a founding member of that conference.

RSU 24 fielded a privately funded subvarsity team through the school system last fall, and there was a club team of high school-age players from the area sponsored through the Ellsworth Football League, which is not affiliated with a school, in 2010.

“We have been contacted by the MPA as to whether we’re interested,” said Ellsworth athletic administrator Jay Brown, “and we’re in the discussion stages.”

RSU 24 previously had indicated to the MPA and the LTC through a letter its interest in moving up to the varsity ranks, having completed the MPA’s typical prerequisite of two years of play at the developmental level.

The MPA’s football committee is scheduled to meet April 24, when Ellsworth-Sumner’s possible elevation to varsity status beginning with the 2012 season would be considered formally.

“Calais-Woodland has informed us that they won’t be fielding a team this fall,” said MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham. “The next step is to see if another school expresses an interest, and then the committee would look at that.”

The LTC, meanwhile, already had approved its 2012 schedule under the belief that Calais-Woodland would field a team, and the league now is awaiting word on a possible replacement.

Should Ellsworth-Sumner or another program replace Calais-Woodland, the LTC would remain a 12-team league. Should that not happen, an odd number of schools — 11 — would remain, creating scheduling headaches for league officials.

“If another team comes in, it can slide right into that Calais-Woodland spot,” said LTC secretary Mike Archer, athletic administrator at Orono High School. “If that doesn’t happen, then we have two choices: one, nullify the entire schedule and ask the scheduling committee to try to come up with another one; or two, go with the schedule we’ve already voted on and have the dates when Calais-Woodland is scheduled be byes.”

The LTC’s current membership for the 2012 season is Bucksport, Dexter, Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft, Hermon, John Bapst of Bangor, Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Mount View of Thorndike, Orono, Stearns of Millinocket and Washington Academy of East Machias.

Calais-Woodland joined the LTC varsity ranks in 2008 after many of the core players on that initial varsity squad had experienced considerable success as part of a St. Stephen, New Brunswick-based team in the Fundy Football League.

That team, also coached by Pratt, won the Maritime provincial championship in 2006, but the aftermath of that triumph left the oldest players on the team with no place else to play, having aged out of the FFL’s bantam ranks for players 14 and 15.

After playing a subvarsity schedule in 2007, Calais-Woodland was approved for admittance into the LTC Class C ranks a year later along with Old Town — which at the time was dropping to Class C from Class B — to give the LTC an even number of teams (12).

Pratt’s privately funded Silverados proved to be one of the more successful new Eastern Maine varsity programs on the field in recent years, qualifying for postseason play in its first season and winning its first LTC playoff game before bowing out in the semifinals to finish with a 6-4 record.

Calais-Woodland also qualified for the LTC playoffs in 2009 and 2010 and compiled a 15-21 overall record over its four seasons, including a 1-7 mark last fall.

“I’m sorry things didn’t work out for Calais-Woodland,” Archer said. “They had what I would say was good success for a new program over that period of time.

“But if anything this shows how hard it is to sustain a new program, because it’s not so much what you have at the high school level but it’s the infrastructure you have below that’s the most important thing in keeping the program going.”

Clark said that while Calais-Woodland will not field a varsity team this fall there remain other possibilities for retaining the sport locally, including a return to club status.

“In analyzing the current state of the program, we believe that the majority of the work and effort would need to be put into building a consistent feeder system at the youth level if the program was ever to return to varsity status,” Clark said. “We will be making some of these decisions in the foreseeable future.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...