Ellsworth High School football coach Duane Crawford talks to the players during practice in August 2019. Credit: Gabor Degre

Duane Crawford, who resurrected the Ellsworth High School football program after a more than 50-year absence from varsity competition, will not return as the head coach next season.

Crawford cited time issues for his decision, including wanting to be able to watch his son Connor — who earlier this week was named a semifinalist for the 49th annual James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy, symbolic of the state’s top senior high school football player — compete at the collegiate level beginning next fall.

“I missed a lot of [older son] Tyler’s games when I was coaching and he was playing in college [Saint Anselm],” Crawford said. “You think you’ve got a lot of time to see them play over four years, but that time really goes by fast and I don’t want to miss any of Connor’s games wherever he plays.”

Crawford’s decision ends his two-decade run as a high school football coach, which began with 10 years as an assistant at his alma mater, Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor.

He went on to start the youth-based Ellsworth Football League in 2008 and brought the Ellsworth-area high school team back to the varsity ranks in 2012 for the first time since it disbanded in 1955 after being a founding member of the Little Ten Conference.

“It’s a lot of work, and trying to juggle coaching with work,” said Crawford, who is a vice president at First National Bank. “This year especially it was a sprint from the minute I got up in the morning to whenever I got home at night, 8:30 or 9 o’clock depending on what time we were practicing.”

He looks back fondly on the experience in terms of watching the athletes build lifelong relationships.

“But there’s been a lot of satisfaction, especially in the development of the kids, whether we won games or lost, in terms of what they’re doing in life and how much they look forward to coming back and watching the games and remaining in contact with their teammates and me and telling me how much football has helped them,” Crawford said.

Ellsworth, with an enrollment of approximately 460, has struggled with football participation during its return to varsity status in a city steeped in soccer tradition.

The Eagles, who also are able to draw players from neighboring Sumner High School of East Sullivan in a cooperative arrangement, lost their first 24 games of varsity play before scoring a 22-8 victory over Washington Academy of East Machias in Week 2 of the 2015 season. Ellsworth finished that year with a 5-3 record, then went 4-4 in 2017 to earn its first Class D North playoff berth.

But Ellsworth may have found a more stable niche for its football future this year as the first North region team to join the Maine Principals’ Association’s new eight-player football division.

Ellsworth dropped its first three games in the new classification, then won three of its last five regular-season contests to earn a playoff berth in the eight-player large-school division.

“We went into the season thinking we might only have 12 or 13 players,” Crawford said, “but we had five players come over who were soccer players and two transfer students so something always happens. As long as they can keep 18 to 20 kids playing — and at one point we did have 20 players this year — they’ll be fine.

“I firmly believe that eight-man is here to stay and is just going to continue to grow.”

Crawford, whose teams posted a 17-25 record since Week 2 of the 2015 season, plans to continue his involvement with the Ellsworth Football League, which added flag football for its third- and fourth-graders this year.

“As long as we can keep the youth football program going in the right direction and can keep a good number moving up through the seventh- and eighth-grade level, I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

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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...