Traip Academy's Isaac Henderson leads a group of players on a warm-up run prior to an August 2018 practice at Memorial Field in Kittery, Maine. Football returned to Traip in 2018 after the 2017 varsity season was canceled due to a lack of numbers. The school has now been approved to participate in the state's new eight-player football league. Credit: Ryan O'Leary | Seacoast Online

AUGUSTA, Maine — A two-division format for eight-player football involving 10 schools that would begin play next fall gained the approval of the Maine Principals’ Association football committee Thursday.

The plan, which next heads to the MPA Classification Committee for its consideration on Feb. 11, will have one division for the five schools with more than 350 students: Ellsworth, Mt. Ararat of Topsham, Yarmouth, Gray-New Gloucester and Maranacook of Readfield.

A second division of eight-player football for schools with 350 or fewer students will be composed of Boothbay Region, Old Orchard Beach, Sacopee Valley of South Hiram, Telstar of Bethel and Traip Academy of Kittery.

[Maine wants to develop 8-player football divisions. Now it’s getting closer to becoming a reality.]

“We ended last season with 20 players, and 10 graduated and we had a small eighth-grade group coming up so for next year we definitely needed eight-man football,” said Ellsworth High School principal Dan Clifford, a member of the football committee. “We have a big seventh-grade group and a big sixth-grade group so we may be back up in 11-man, that’s the plan in a few years.”

“But for the next year it’s exactly what we needed.”

Given the relatively small number of schools that have opted for eight-man play, that class initially will crown a single state champion, with the champion of the small-school division facing the champion of the large-school region for the gold ball.

If more schools eventually switch to eight-player football, the committee likely would revisit the option of having games to determine separate small-school and large-school state champions.

For the next two-year classification cycle that begins next fall, movement in and out of the eight-player football divisions will be allowed each year.

“To start something new like this they had to make it very legitimate and give people an incentive to do it,” Old Orchard Beach athletic administrator and head football coach Dean Plante said. “I think the MPA and the football committee did a great job building a really sound foundation and they’re open to some flexibility if there’s an influx of larger schools or smaller schools to make changes as the process unfolds.”

“I think it’s fantastic for Maine football.”

The football committee, which had been considering a switch back to a three-class format for 11-player football, opted to maintain the current four-class format. Enrollment cutoffs for the next two-year cycle are 771-plus for Class A, 555-770 for Class B, 420-554 for Class C and 0-419 for Class D.

Class A will grow from 14 to 18 schools, while Class B and Class C will have 16 schools each and Class D will have 17 schools.

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The committee also voted to return to the use of the Crabtree point system for regular-season standings instead of Heal Points in an effort to foster more cross-class scheduling. Heal Points take into account the quality of wins each team has, while Crabtree Points consider the winning percentage of each team’s opponents.

“With lots of feedback from across the state I think we’ve done the best job we could of dividing the 11-man schools and brought the Crabtree Points back, which many coaches felt would help with playing across classes,” said MPA football committee chair Brendan Scully, athletic administrator at Massabesic High School in Waterboro.

“I think we have decent-sized groups of classes such that within each class a school can create a schedule that’s competitive and opens up the possibility of playing outside your class in the spirit of building that competitive schedule.”

The proposal has some interesting changes, among them moving reigning Class B state champion Marshwood of South Berwick to Class A and Class D state champion Wells back to Class C, where the Warriors won the first of their three straight state titles.

The proposed format also keeps the Little Ten Conference, which consists of the smallest football-playing schools in northern Maine, virtually intact. The only change is the move of Ellsworth to the eight-player ranks.

Class D North next fall under the plan will consist of Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft, Washington Academy of East Machias, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Mount View of Thorndike, Orono, Houlton, Bucksport, Dexter and Stearns of Millinocket.

“For those like us in the northern part of the state, our region is really important to us and the history that we have in our league is really important to us,” Orono head football coach Bob Sinclair said. “When leagues were developed years ago they were developed primarily to get a schedule and have some commonality, and that thread still holds pretty true through the LTC and the northern Maine schools.”

Under the endorsed format, Class A North will consist of Bangor, Cheverus of Portland, Skowhegan, Deering of Portland, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Portland, Lewiston, Edward Little of Auburn and Windham.

Class A South will be made up of Marshwood, Thornton Academy of Saco, Bonny Eagle of Standish, Sanford, Scarborough, Massabesic of Waterboro, Noble of North Berwick, South Portland and Gorham.

Class B North schools are Hampden Academy, Messalonskee of Oakland, Cony of Augusta, Brewer, Mt. Blue of Farmington, Gardiner, Lawrence of Fairfield and Nokomis of Newport.

Class B South would consist of Biddeford, Westbrook, Kennebunk, Brunswick, Morse of Bath, Fryeburg Academy, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and a planned cooperative team involving Falmouth and Greely of Cumberland Center.

In Class C North are Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Waterville, Hermon, Belfast, Old Town, John Bapst of Bangor, Winslow and Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield.

Class C South schools are Lake Region of Naples, Freeport, Cape Elizabeth, Oceanside of Rockland, Poland, Wells, York and Leavitt of Turner Center.

In Class D South are Spruce Mountain of Jay, Oak Hill of Wales, Mountain Valley of Rumford, Lisbon/Saint Dominic, Madison/Carrabec of North Anson, Winthrop/Monmouth Academy/Hall-Dale of Farmingdale, Dirigo of Dixfield and Camden Hills of Rockport.

Schools have the opportunity to appeal their placements to the MPA Classification Committee, and once that panel has completed its work, schools have another chance to appeal to the Interscholastic Management Committee, which meets in late March.

The plan is subject to final approval by the full MPA membership this spring.

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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...