Bangor High School football coach David Morris talks with team members during a timeout in a 2018 game against Deering High of Portland. Morris said Bangor is ready to embrace its status as one of only eight Class A schools statewide, pending approval of the plan by the Maine Principals' Association. Credit: Pete Warner | BDN

Dave Morris remembers the long weekend bus rides from his years as a football player at Bangor High School during the 1980s.

“Lewiston was our closest game, and we went as far as Biddeford and Sanford,” the Rams’ head coach said. “I can remember playing Sanford on a Friday night. We were used to it.”

Bangor has revisited those journeys since Maine high school football most recently expanded to four classes in 2013. Little is expected to change for the team under classification changes that are expected to receive final approval by the Maine Principals’ Association during its annual spring conference Thursday.

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The plan, which includes reducing the Class A field from 14 schools in two regional divisions to one statewide region of eight schools, received unanimous approval from the MPA’s football and classification committees after a year or more of deliberations that at one point expanded the state’s largest-school class to as many as 18 teams.

But the enrollment differentials between the largest schools in the state — Thornton Academy of Saco at 1,476 and Lewiston at 1,420 — prompted dissent among some of the smaller schools in that class, many of which were only 50 to 60 percent of the size of their largest peers.

That ultimately led to the decision to pare Class A to the eight largest schools — Thornton Academy, Lewiston, Bangor, Bonny Eagle of Standish, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Edward Little of Auburn, Sanford and Scarborough.

Despite its recent on-field struggles, Bangor stands as the state’s third-largest high school with 1,202 students as of April 1, 2018.

“A lot of people have asked me about the whole thing and nothing’s really changed in our mindset. We’ve always been Class A whether it’s been called AA or A,” Morris said.

“We want to play those schools that have a great football program,” he said. “We want to expose ourselves to those programs. We’ve been in that situation where we’ve been a strong program. We’re just in a position now where we’re taking it one day at a time and rebuilding things.”

Six of last year’s Class A football programs — Cheverus and Deering of Portland, Massabesic of Waterboro, Portland, South Portland, and Windham — all will play in Class B under the plan, with Windham in Class B North and the rest in Class B South. Each Class B region will have 11 teams.

Cheverus, which traditionally has petitioned to play up in Class A, now has petitioned up to play in Class B. The private school has an enrollment of 394, which would put it in Class C.

The eight remaining Class A schools are expected to play a nine-game regular-season schedule with games against each of their Class A rivals as well as two crossover games against nonconference opponents.

That has led to talk that one of Bangor’s crossover games might be a renewal of its regular-season rivalry with neighboring Brewer. Those schools began playing each other in 1903, though recent matchups have been preseason exhibition games with Bangor in Class A and Brewer in Class B.

Athletic administrators Steve Vanidestine of Bangor and Dave Utterback of Brewer said schedules for the 2019 football season have not yet been finalized.

“If we have nine games we’ll go wherever we have to play,” Morris said. “Obviously we’ll have our fair share of home games but traditionally Bangor is used to playing teams from Lewiston south. I don’t really have any opinion as far as who we play or where we travel. We’re just going to control the things we can control.”

Bangor is coming off a 1-7 season during Morris’ first year as the head coach in 2018.

“We know high school sports can go in cycles, but we’re really looking to sustain a program,” Morris said. “You can concern yourselves with wins and losses in any sport, but I think if you want to be the best you’ve got to play the best.”

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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...