Traip Academy's Isaac Henderson leads a group of players on a warm-up run prior to an August 2018 practice at Memorial Field. Credit: Ryan O'Leary | Seacoast Online

Summer vacation ended abruptly Monday for high school athletes, coaches and athletic administrators around the state, but most of the participants wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s certainly a good day to be an AD if you’re prepared,” eighth-year Brewer School Department Athletic Director Dave Utterback said of the opening day of preseason practices for cross-country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer and volleyball. “If you have a good support staff and veteran coaches it makes it easier, and the team we have in place here is pretty good at what they do so that makes things easier for the kids and parents.

“It’s exciting to start the school year.”

The 2019 fall sports season will not be without change, particularly in football as the Maine Principals’ Association introduces an eight-player division to address shrinking enrollments and participation.

Ten programs will compete to become Maine’s first eight-player football state champion, with the winners of a five-team, large-school division and a five-team, small-school division battling for that state crown Nov. 16 at a site to be determined.

The football field remains 100 yards long for eight-player competition, though it will be narrowed from 53 1/3 yards to 40 to accommodate the reduction in players from 22 to 16.

Ellsworth, Mt. Ararat of Topsham, Gray-New Gloucester, Yarmouth and Maranacook of Readfield will compete in the eight-player division for schools with 351 or more students. Sacopee Valley of South Hiram, Traip Academy of Kittery, Old Orchard Beach, Telstar of Bethel and Boothbay will comprise the small-school division.

Changes are only slightly less dramatic elsewhere on the football scene, particularly in Class A where the former two-division, 14-school format has been placed by a single division featuring the state’s eight biggest football-playing schools — defending champion Thornton Academy of Saco, Lewiston, Bangor, Bonny Eagle of Standish, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Edward Little of Auburn, Sanford and Scarborough.

Six former Class A schools — Cheverus and Deering of Portland, Massabesic of Waterboro, Portland High School, South Portland and Windham — will join a Class B division that has swelled from 17 to 22 schools, with 20 schools in Class C and 17 in Class D.

Other 2018 state champions seeking to defend their titles are Class B Marshwood of South Berwick and Class C Nokomis of Newport. Three-time defending state champion Wells, the reigning Class D title holder, has been reclassified back to Class C where it won the 2016 gold ball before winning two more in Class D the last two autumns.

The Class C state final will be Friday, Nov. 22, at the University of Maine in Orono. The A, B and D games follow Nov. 23 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

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...